The two years since Michel Platini was elected President of UEFA have seen changes made to the football landscape by European football's governing body – but the changes have been made within a process of continuity. Mr Platini took the opportunity in his address to the XXXIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Copenhagen to highlight the progress that is continuing for the well-being of the European game.
Eleven against eleven
"We still play eleven against eleven, there are still winners and losers, deserved and undeserved results, monkey chants in certain stadiums and inadmissible violence in others, but also exemplary demonstrations of fair play," the UEFA President told representatives of the European and world football family, as well as other guests.
"There are still fantastic goals and goals scored as a result of good fortune, atmospheres which give you goose pimples and emotions to make you cry. The ball still remains the only thing not to be paid even if it takes the most blows. And yet this balance sheet, my balance sheet, indeed exists, and I dare to hope that it is positive."
Mr Platini spoke of the positive dialogue and mutual respect existing with the world body FIFA, and the measures to bring the football family around the same table through the Professional Football Strategy Council – "We are in the process of removing the misunderstandings which could exist between players, clubs, leagues and national associations," he said.
Accords bring serenity
Historic accords had been signed, Mr Platini continued, with the players' union FIFPro-Division-Europe, the European Club Association (ECA) grouping Europe's leading clubs and with the European professional national leagues. "The agreements lifted the sword of Damocles which existed above our heads and above national-team competitions," he said. They were for the unity of football, and enabled European football to face the future with great serenity.
National associations, the UEFA President continued, had been restored to their rightful decision-making place in UEFA's activities through the expansion of the Executive Committee and creation of a new committee structure, and dialogue had been opened with European fan group representatives.
Mr Platini also highlighted changes made to the UEFA Champions League access list from next season – "more countries, more champions, but still the same format and the same quality," he said. The UEFA Cup would grow and develop as the new UEFA Europa League from next term, while 24 teams would take part in the UEFA European Championship final round from 2016. Last summer's UEFA EURO 2008™ tournament had been "fantastic from every point of view" in terms of, among other things, quality of play and organisation, and the atmosphere inside and outside the stadiums.
The Respect campaign, Mr Platini said, had been launched for UEFA EURO 2008™ and had now been expanded to all competitions. Respect of opponents, rules, referees, diversity, the environment, physical integrity of players and the fight against doping. "We are intensifying our actions in all these areas because we have become aware that, more than ever, UEFA has a moral duty and a social responsibility," the UEFA President said.
UEFA, Mr Platini went on, had continued its lobbying with European institutions and governments to defend the interests of the national associations, UEFA and football, with progress made in the campaigning for recognition of sport's specific nature and the autonomy of sports federations.
Challenges remained amid these positive results, the UEFA President explained. These included preparations for UEFA EURO 2012™ in Poland and Ukraine – a tournament notable because it was the first of this magnitude to be staged in Eastern Europe. Financial fair play was essential to help guarantee the proper running of the UEFA club competitions. Another challenge, Mr Platini said, was the campaign to ban the international transfer of young players under the age of 18 – a moral and ethical challenge also taken up by the world body FIFA.
Illegal betting, Mr Platini told the audience, was a considerable challenge facing UEFA. "Illegal betting can kill our sport," he said. "If results are fixed in advance, football has no further reason to exist." A fraud detection system being put in place, funded by UEFA and available for first and second-division competitions and national domestic cup matches within the 53 national associations would, the UEFA President said, hopefully be "an effective solution to preserve the integrity of our competitions in Europe".
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