UEFA President Michel Platini has given a keynote speech in Athens to the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Sport – calling in particular for cooperation from European authorities and governments in tackling a variety of issues affecting football and sport in Europe.
In his address, Mr Platini raised issues such as the integrity and orderly running of competitions, the fight against doping and corruption, in particular illegal betting; combating violence and racism and discrimination; and protecting young players and their training. He said that as UEFA President, his first duty was to ensure the orderly running of UEFA's competitions - "because if games are decided in advance, it will quietly kill off sport".
The UEFA President said that sports organisations are virtually, but not totally, powerless against cross-border organised crime. "That is why UEFA is equipping itself with ever more robust mechanisms and measures to combat cheating, which is often linked to illegal betting. But if we are to succeed against cheating and organised crime, governments must be heavily involved, because only they have the means to help the sports movement to destroy the roots of the problem."
Turning to the fight against doping, Mr Platini said that, in the wake of key European agreements such as the Anti-Doping Convention, UEFA had reinforced its own regulations. "From my 40 years of experience in football, however, I also believe what we really need is prevention through education that targets young players and training academies."
The UEFA President said he welcomed Council of Europe action to combat violence and hooliganism – in particular through the European Convention on Spectator Violence. "And here, as elsewhere," said Mr Platini, "UEFA's activities obviously depend on what measures governments are prepared to implement."
Mr Platini spoke of his recent call for the creation of a European sports police force. "With some countries we have already taken steps in the right direction and we have stepped up the cooperation and collaboration between police forces, clubs and national associations throughout Europe." He asked the European authorities to release promised funds for training for stewards and police forces, and urged national authorities to fully apply recommended procedures on international police cooperation at football matches.
Mr Platini explained football's attachment to its democratic pyramid structure. "This democracy is only possible at the very highest level if it is alive and kicking at the base," he said. "Our credibility as a representative sports organisation depends on this grassroots democracy. This democracy that we all treasure is only possible if sport is independent of political powers. We deeply respect the laws that govern the lives of European citizens at community level. We cooperate with government bodies all over Europe and we respect every letter of the law, but we categorically reject any interference by public authorities in areas governed by our statutes. I would like to solemnly reaffirm, on behalf of the whole European sports movement, our commitment to defending the autonomy of sports associations wherever it comes under threat."
On the subject of racism in football, Mr Platini pulled no punches. "Our policy is clear and it contains no ambiguity: zero tolerance of racism and discrimination. Our anti-racism measures, which we stepped up again recently, are probably the strictest in the world of sport today. Our measures, which we already enforce without reservation, will only be fully effective if they are accompanied by adequate measures at political level in every country in Europe and, once again, by education and prevention. Sport, and therefore football, cannot stamp out deep-rooted sociocultural problems such as racism, sexism and homophobia on their own. But thanks to their immense popularity and power to mobilise people, sport, and therefore football, can make a huge contribution in this respect."
Mr Platini said that children were being trafficked in Europe and in the rest of the world, and that this is also an issue in football. Work and dialogue with FIFA and the EU authorities was ongoing in this area. The UEFA President said that national measures to protect young players carried no weight at European or world level and, paradoxically, encouraged clubs to "poach" players from beyond their national borders.
Mr Platini said: "What clubs are prevented from doing in their own countries, they can do to their European neighbours or in Africa or South America, with devastating consequences for European training academies and the psychological health and education of young players. In the next few months, we will therefore set to work on rules to protect these vulnerable children while, at the same time, of course, respecting European rules on the freedom of movement of workers. I very much hope we can count on the support of the Council of Europe on this."
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