The year 2007 will go down as a momentous one in UEFA's history, heralding the start of a new era. The election of a new President kicked off a fascinating 12 months in the annals of European football's governing body.
A new President
In January, at the UEFA Ordinary Congress in Dusseldorf, Europe's national associations elected Frenchman Michel Platini as the sixth President of the European game's governing body, with Lennart Johansson becoming UEFA Honorary President after 17 outstanding and innovative years' service at the helm. Mr Platini came to the UEFA Presidency after a magnificent career as a player with AS Nancy-Lorraine, AS Saint-Etienne and Juventus at club level – plus a proud record at international level with France including lifting the UEFA European Championship trophy as captain, on home soil in 1984 – and then a smooth transition to the role of football politician and administrator, including the key post of co-president of the 1998 FIFA World Cup organising committee.
Steering UEFA's course
In June, following Lars-Christer Olsson's departure, David Taylor, previously chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, arrived to head UEFA's administration as General Secretary. Gianni Infantino, who had assumed the role of CEO ad interim following Mr Platini's election, was named as deputy General Secretary to Mr Taylor. Together with a loyal and strong administration, the new team of leaders has begun patiently and expertly steering UEFA's course for the coming years.
Ending the strife
Mr Platini's presidency began with a call at the Extraordinary Congress in Zurich in May for an end to the strife that has affected football's health. Europe's national associations approved the creation within UEFA of a Professional Football Strategy Council comprising UEFA's vice-presidents and representatives of clubs, leagues and the players. Mr Platini described the move as "a crucial step, with an eye to gathering together all football families". "I call officially on the major and important clubs in European football to join together with all the other clubs to engage in a fruitful, productive and democratic dialogue with the other members of the European football family," he said. "UEFA's door is wide open – join us and, I promise you, you will not be disappointed." Talks with Europe's clubs and leagues continue to bear positive fruit, and a keynote Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with the European division of the players' union FIFPro.
The invaluable dialogue between UEFA and football's stakeholders also resulted in changes to the formats of UEFA's club competitions, approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in November. Between 2009 and 2012, 22 sides will qualify directly for the 32-team UEFA Champions League group stage – the third-placed clubs from the associations ranked between 1 and 3 in the ranking list, and the champions of countries ranked from 10 to 12 are added – instead of the current 16, and the UEFA Champions League final will be played on a Saturday.
On the national-team front, preparations have continued apace for the UEFA EURO 2008™ final round in Austria and Switzerland, the year culminating in a star-studded draw ceremony in Lucerne, Switzerland. "The tournament motto is Expect Emotions," said David Taylor, "and this now really begins to have meaning." Even as work for the 2008 football festival reaches boiling point, UEFA has been looking even further ahead – in the direction of eastern Europe, to be precise – with the Executive Committee choosing Poland and Ukraine as hosts of UEFA EURO 2012™. Neither neighbour has staged a major tournament before, but both are ready to seize their moment as hosts of one of the world's biggest sporting events.
Campaigning for causes
UEFA's year has again been notable for tireless campaigning on behalf of various causes for the sake of football's well-being. A "zero tolerance" policy is being pursued against violence and racism in particular, and Michel Platini and European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini have agreed an action plan against violence in sport, which targets football hooliganism in particular. Social responsibility is no idle phrase at UEFA. Crucial support is being given to the Football Against Racism in Europe network, and UEFA backing for land-mine victims will be the focal point of work with the International Committee of the Red Cross at UEFA EURO 2008™. Support has been forthcoming too for homeless players, disabled players and footballers with learning difficulties, and the 53 member associations have continued to benefit fully from the ambitious HatTrick programme.
The list of ongoing work is almost endless. Intensive political and diplomatic dialogue with the European Union over a period of years has finally led to the EU's acknowledgement of sport's specific nature in its new reform treaty. UEFA is also listening to the fans, and a first-ever meeting between supporter groups and the European body came about – because UEFA wants to get closer to the fans who are the game's lifeblood. The battle against doping, corruption and illegal betting in football goes on unabated. As we enter another new year, UEFA's voice continues to ring loud, proud and clear – and a most eventful 2008 is in the offing.
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