The meeting of UEFA's Executive Committee in Nyon last week came hot on the heels of an extremely encouraging development in the long-standing dialogue between European football's governing body and the European political authorities.
The European Commission's communication on sport, issued last month, gives explicit backing to a considerable number of UEFA's core values and policies – and the EU commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, as well as sport, Androulla Vassiliou, came to UEFA's House of European Football last Friday to explain the communication, its background and its ramifications.
Over recent years, UEFA has established a close relationship with the European Union, with regular discussions taking place on areas such as the specificity of sport and the autonomy of sport governing bodies; the European sports model; the protection of minors; financial fair play; sports betting; and broadcasting rights. UEFA's unstinting efforts to protect and nurture European football have borne fruit in the communication on sport.
The welcome for Androulla Vassiliou from UEFA president Michel Platini and the Executive Committee members was warm and founded on mutual respect for a job well done. "I am very happy that the College of Commissioners adopted last week its first communication on strengthening sport in Europe in the framework of the Lisbon Treaty," said Mrs Vassiliou.
"The communication builds on the 2007 white paper on sport and is the result of an extensive consultation with member states and sport stakeholders – I welcome in particular the invaluable input received from UEFA. The document presents the commission's ideas on EU-level cooperation in sport for the coming years."
Mrs Vassiliou spoke of proposed measures to enhance the societal, economic and organisational dimension of sport. "Athletes, sport organisations and citizens will all benefit from our actions," she said.
"The core of the communication is an EU agenda for sport with actions in areas where the EU's added value can be clearly demonstrated and which complement the actions of member states," added the commissioner. Key proposals include fostering the EU's role in the fight against doping; promoting the access of women to leadership positions in sport; providing further guidance on the free movement of sportsmen and women; studying the economic and legal aspects of player transfers; and championing an EU-level social dialogue for the sport and leisure sector as a whole.
"It is my strong belief," Mrs Vassiliou emphasised, "that on the basis of this communication, coupled with input from member states and the sport movement, more can be done in future to further a European dimension in sport."
Mrs Vassiliou told the UEFA Executive Committee that, in 2009-10, the commission had made more than €6m available to support around 30 sport-related projects. "In 2011," she continued, "we will evaluate these projects and assess the possibility of continuing incentive measures for sport in future. I wish to have a debate on European sporting issues among stakeholders, to address the challenges facing sport and to help the sector develop."
Michel Platini told Mrs Vassiliou of UEFA's reaction to the communication. "I can assure you that UEFA has numerous reasons to be satisfied – support to financial fair play and to the structures of the European sports model, the commission's backing to sports federations' intellectual property rights, as well as advocating the centralised sales of TV rights. Numerous are the areas in which the commission has expressed itself with discernment.
"The time that you have taken to draw up this communication, the efforts that you have undertaken and the energy that you have expended open rich perspectives for the long-term development of European football," added the UEFA president, embracing the "spirit of cooperation, dialogue and reciprocal friendship" which now formed the basis for relations between UEFA and the European Commission.
"The conditions are now met for UEFA and the European Union to move forward hand in hand in support of the social, educational and cultural values which are laid down in the European sports model." The proposals will now be discussed at the next European Sport Forum in Budapest later this month, while the communication will next be debated at the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
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