The UEFA President, Michel Platini, opened the UEFA Congress in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel on the evening of Friday 24 May 2013, ahead of Saturday’s big match, the 2013 UEFA Champions League Final, which takes place between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium.
Platini, speaking to a large crowd, which included HRH Duke of Cambridge (Prince William), Mr Hugh Robertson, the UK Minister of State for Sport and Tourism, Mr David Bernstein, Chairman of the Football Association, and Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, Platini’s speech was as follows:
Your Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, President of The Football Association, Mr Hugh Robertson, Minister of State for Sport and Tourism, Mr David Bernstein, Chairman of The FA, thank you for welcoming us to this great footballing country.
Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, Lennart Johansson, Honorary UEFA President, Presidents of the confederations and members of the FIFA Executive Committee, honorary members, national association delegates, representatives of players, clubs and leagues, members of the circle of former UEFA committee members, present and correct at the back there as always, ladies and gentlemen, friends of football, Welcome to London!
A city that lives and breathes football, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A country – England – whose heart beats for football.
A country – England – to which we owe this beautiful game that excites us so much, the game that has brought us all together today.
From Manchester to Hull, from Watford to Doncaster, from Gillingham to Mansfield, passion for football is everywhere: in stadiums, school playgrounds and pubs throughout the country.
Yes, every nation does of course have its own traditions and unique characteristics.
But you, our English friends, have something else besides – something that we all certainly envy: you are the founding fathers of a gem, a dream, a living work of art that is constantly evolving, a snapshot of life that lasts 90 minutes and is played out every weekend all around the world, the most beautiful thing that exists, a unique and exceptional game: football!
It was therefore only right that, in honour of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of The FA, the world’s oldest football association, football’s international bodies should come to pay tribute to you.
Coming here, holding our Congress and the finals of the UEFA Champions League and Women’s Champions League in this country, in the land that gave birth to the game that brings us all together today – it was the natural thing to do; it was our duty; it was a moral obligation.
150 years is a long time.
150 years of matches, of passion, of emotion, of action.
150 years of victories and defeats.
150 years of indescribable joy and unfortunately indelible drama.
150 years that have seen some legendary English players.
In short, 150 years of history – 150 years of joy – summarised in a 150second video clip that I invite you to watch now.
Let us now move from English football to European football.
We don’t want to overdo it, after all; this isn’t The FA Congress!
I don’t know what you think, but European football is, in my view, not doing too badly – it is even doing rather well – given the general situation in Europe.
We can consider ourselves fortunate.
Fortunate, first of all, because if we look back, we can say, in all modesty, that we have done well, and that we were successful in tackling our primary challenge in 2012.
Indeed, EURO 2012 was a success in every respect.
For a long time, there were sceptics who harboured doubts (myself included, I might add), but the bet paid off in the end.
YES – eastern Europe is capable of hosting events on that scale, as Ukraine and Poland showed so admirably.
So, thanks once again to the Ukrainian and Polish football associations and their leaders.
And thanks, too, to the Polish and Ukrainian people for their enthusiasm and sense of pride, which they shared with fans from all over the world.
Together, in our own way, we created history!
Other tournaments held in 2012 were equally successful – with less media coverage, admittedly, but great successes all the same.
I’m thinking of the final round of the European Under-19 Championship in Estonia; the final round of the European Under-17 Championship in Slovenia; the final round of the European Women’s Under-19 Championship in Turkey; and the final of the UEFA Europa League, which took place in Romania.
2012 offered resounding proof of the fact that, YES, European football belongs to Europe – the whole of Europe, without exception – from west to east and north to south.
And we will continue in that vein.
We can also consider ourselves fortunate because our current situation is positive.
Looking, first of all, at events on the pitch, the quality of the football is exceptional – better than ever – and the results are following close behind.
Throughout Europe, the game is progressing.
From Reykjavik to Valletta, football is improving day by day.
The development programmes that you are putting in place, esteemed delegates, are bearing fruit.
And I can never say this often enough: your role is not to ensure that your national team wins all of its matches.
Your role is to allow as many children in your countries as possible to play football in the best possible conditions.
For sure, you have the pressure of the media to cope with for every national team match… but if the children in your country develop a passion for football and can play the game whenever possible, you will have achieved your objectives.
Things are also going well from a financial perspective.
You will be able to see that at this Congress.
As you know, solidarity payments under the HatTrick programme have increased with every cycle, and HatTrick III has set a new record.
That has not stopped us from establishing new development programmes for the benefit of national associations.
After all, our aim is not to sit and watch our ever increasing reserves; it is to share that revenue in order to continue investing, again and again, in the development of the game across Europe.
Equally, things are going extremely well as regards the popularity of European football.
EURO 2012 was the most-watched EURO in history, with a cumulative TV audience of more than 8 billion over the tournament as a whole.
For its part, the Champions League final is now recognised as the most important annual sporting event in the world – way ahead of events such as the Super Bowl.
The last two finals were the most-watched in the history of the tournament.
Since we took the decision to move the match from Wednesday to Saturday to allow children to enjoy this magical occasion, audience figures have increased by more than 25%.
People who know me know that I am not a great fan of figures or statistics, but one thing is certain: European football is enjoying unprecedented popularity.
In a way, our competitions unite nations and transcend borders.
And so, tomorrow evening at 19.45 local time, Germany will come to a standstill and the rest of the world will be holding its breath as the great spectacle unfolds before their eyes.
Finally, we can consider ourselves fortunate as we belong to an organisation that is on the move and forward-looking, a bold organisation that initiates more and more projects that promise great things.
There have been many new projects in the last six years, and I am not going to go over them – you know what they are. The most recent was the centralisation of the commercial rights for national team qualifying matches.
And the next one is already under way. It’s a project that you have supported with enthusiasm, following a series of consultations with all of you.
As I’m sure you will have gathered, I am of course talking about EURO 2020.
This will be a “EURO for Europe”.
A EURO that will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the creation of this competition and will, for the first time, take place all over the continent.
53 national associations, 24 national teams qualifying for the final round, 13 countries, and one single language: football.
For a number of countries, this project represents a unique opportunity to host EURO matches.
It is also a fantastic opportunity for national associations to finally set about acquiring a true national stadium that is worthy of the name – without having to invest in seven or eight different stadiums, as is often necessary in order to be awarded such a tournament.
In that sense, this will be a responsible EURO.
Finally, it will also be an opportunity for people who cannot travel to the countries that generally host such events to be able to experience those intense moments of shared emotion at home.
Fans won’t have to go to the EURO; the EURO will come to them.
In short, in 2020, the EURO will never have better lived up to its name.
It will be decidedly continental and profoundly European.
It will be a EURO of unity and shared experiences.
It will, of course, be a new challenge – a challenge of a new kind.
But at UEFA, as you know better than anyone, simply taking the easy route is not – and never will be – an option.
The only limits we have are those that you set for us.
However, before EURO 2020, we will of course have EURO 2016.
You will not be disappointed, I assure you.
EURO 2016 will be an event that is not to be missed: a meeting of football fans; a meeting of friendship and passion; a meeting of football and discovery; a meeting of sport and culture; a meeting of artists; an event that, for the first time, will see the final round contested by 24 teams, showing that the quality of European football is such that this will in no way reduce the quality of the tournament. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Finally, while we’re still talking about initiatives, the UEFA Youth League will be launched at the beginning of next season, with a trophy at stake that bears the name of our Honorary President: the Lennart Johansson Trophy.
It will be a kind of mini-Champions League for youth players. I won’t deny that the format of this tournament is not necessarily ideal, and I myself have had a few reservations.
However, Michael van Praag’s working group has given this considerable thought, and I would ask you to be patient before delivering a verdict on this tournament.
Rest assured that we will make the necessary adjustments at the end of the two-year test period, to ensure that greater account is taken of results on the pitch when choosing the teams participating.
So there you have it.
I don’t know about you, but, for all of the reasons I have just mentioned, I think we can say that we are a confederation which is moving forwards, which is moving forwards at a good pace, and which is moving in the right direction.
And we are not the only ones moving forwards, either.
The other confederations are also making progress, modernising and developing their football, and all at an impressive speed, driven by passionate leaders, some of whom are with us today and I am pleased to greet.
Greetings to you my friends from CONMEBOL, the OFC, CONCACAF and the AFC.
There is real solidarity between us.
We are not competitors.
We are partners.
As you know, we have concluded memorandums of understanding based on the exchange of knowledge, and other such agreements will follow.
This marks the beginning of a beautiful cooperation and represents the perfect response to the call expressed by FIFA President Sepp Blatter at our Congress in Paris two years ago.
Yes – Europe knows how to show solidarity. And yes – Europe still remembers that football is a universal sport.
FIFA is also changing and modernising.
It has launched a series of reforms, as we recommended at our meeting in Cyprus in September 2011.
We strongly supported the first set of reforms last year in Budapest, and a second set will be presented this year.
Although a few issues have yet to be resolved or appear not to fully meet the expectations of some, I believe that we should encourage organisations that seek to make improvements in the area of good governance.
But we will discuss all of that in more detail next week in Mauritius, when we will have a bit more information.
Indeed, there would be no point in adopting drastic positions today, as they would be based solely on rumours or statements published in the press recently.
Let’s show some faith, and we will manage to calmly find together the best solutions that are beneficial both for football and for its organisations.
So, we will leave all talk of that for next week, as today, in case you’ve forgotten, is first and foremost a celebration of European football.
Yesterday, we attended the final of the Women’s Champions League.
Today, it’s our Congress.
And tomorrow, we have the final of the German Cup – sorry, the Champions League…
Yes – it’s truly a celebration of European football; it’s our celebration.
But watch out! We should also be aware that the picture is not necessarily altogether rosy, and that certain problems still exist.
Without wishing to establish a hierarchy of threats in terms of the scale of the problems that are poisoning football from within, I would like to touch on three issues that worry me the most.
The first is the issue of match-fixing and betting.
We are protecting our sport from this scourge with all the means at our disposal, but, unfortunately, that is sometimes not enough.
Our match monitoring system and our network of integrity officers, who are present in every country, are of course useful – indispensable even – in this respect, but it is not enough.
We are not dealing with petty criminals who are looking to make ends meet.
It would seem that we are, in some instances, dealing with mafiatype organisations that are using certain matches to launder money, tarnishing our sport in the process.
We can take reassurance from the fact that this is far from being a widespread phenomenon.
However, just one fixed match is one match too many, as it strikes at the soul of our sport, the very essence of the game.
Dear representatives of the national associations, I commend your commitment in this struggle, as I know that it takes a great deal of courage to tackle this problem head on.
Some of you do so without hesitation, sometimes placing yourselves in danger, and I salute you wholeheartedly for your actions.
Six years ago now, in response to this problem of betting, corruption and match-fixing, as well as the problems of hooliganism and doping, I called for the establishment of a European sports police force.
There has been no response to those calls so far.
Given the absence of any reaction and the lack of awareness on the part of politicians, I renew that call today.
And if, by misfortune, this call again falls on deaf ears, I ask that each country, at the very least, adopts specific provisions of national legislation addressing the issue of match-fixing, in order to finally have the legal tools necessary to rigorously punish these cheats.
Thus far, only around ten of our 53 countries have provisions of this kind in their legislative arsenal. That’s not many, and not enough.
Then there is the recurrent problem of discrimination.
Football is characterised by swapping and sharing. It is the team sport par excellence.
Football integrates; it does not exclude.
Football is inclusive and welcoming; it does not isolate.
That is its primary function.
How many children of immigrants have found it easier to integrate into their new country thanks to football? Sometimes football succeeds where schools and public services fail.
Often, club coaches are heeded and respected more than the children’s own teachers!
Is any of that normal? Of course not.
But it is undeniably the case.
Football has the power to unite and smooth out differences.
When you put on the same shirt as your team-mates, you remove all differences and erase all inequalities for the duration of the match.
Unfortunately, football is all too often caught up by the ills of society.
We must not bury our heads in the sand.
Discrimination, be it racial or sexual, is still present in football today.
And we owe it to ourselves to act.
By working on prevention and education, of course, as that is an essential element of any ambitious strategy in this area, but also by imposing the necessary sanctions.
Exemplary sanctions that will make those who are responsible – or rather, irresponsible – aware of the seriousness of their actions.
This is an item on the agenda for our Congress, and a resolution on this fight against discrimination will be put to you.
We will send an important message on this issue, and I hope that you will be right behind us in this fight.
For only if we are united will we achieve our objectives in this area.
Finally, the third problem that I wanted to mention today is the worrying financial situation at certain clubs in Europe.
Financial fair play was established in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of European clubs.
The philosophy of this project can be expressed in one sentence and is, above all, simple good sense: “Do not spend more money than you make.”
It is about the clubs managing their finances in a responsible manner, but it is also about making clubs pay the money they owe to tax authorities, other clubs and all of their employees, both players and coaches.
In order to prevent the current system from collapsing and stop the bubble from bursting, UEFA had a duty to step in, and it will be up to independent bodies to punish the few clubs that have not realised that football can no longer live above the rules.
I am well aware that, in this country, words such as “interventionism” and “regulation” can cause alarm.
However, the Premier League and the Football League have themselves grasped the importance of this matter and the need to adopt financial fair play.
In this respect, I congratulate England’s professional clubs, who have decided, of their own accord, to follow UEFA’s example.
The rules adopted are not exactly the same, but the philosophy is identical.
And I can assure you that this is the path to follow.
The message should be clear by now: action is needed in the future.
We have to be aware of that fact.
Aware of how lucky we are, as I said, since, working for football, we have everything – absolutely everything – we need in order to be happy, but aware also of our responsibilities.
Responsibilities that will inevitably cause us, at some point (if we haven’t already), to take decisions with very considerable consequences.
These decisions will not necessarily please everyone and will therefore give rise to some strong criticism.
They will not always be popular but they will be necessary.
Whether that relates to our struggle against match-fixing, our fight against discrimination or our desire to clean up clubs’ finances and deal with financial doping, it is clear that we will not be able to please everyone.
But if we always remember that it is our duty to protect the game, the players and our values, those of the national associations, we will have right on our side.
For we should not fool ourselves:protecting the game, the players and our values is essential; protecting the game, the players and our values is our mission; protecting the game, the players and our values should always be the principle that guides our actions.
You do that in a remarkable manner at national level, in conditions that are not always easy. And TOGETHER – because we are united – we will succeed in doing so at European level, too.
So, I thank the members of the Executive Committee; I thank our Honorary President, Lennart Johansson, for continuing to give me regular words of advice; I thank the General Secretary and his administration; and I thank my dear friends at the national associations for their unstinting support in this modest mission of ours.
I don’t know whether we will succeed, but I know one thing: With you there, I will “never walk alone”.
I now declare the 37th UEFA Congress open!
– Michel Platini – UEFA President
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