The Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) was founded in Basel (Switzerland) on 15 June 1954. Since then, the parent body of European football – one of six continental confederations of world football's governing body FIFA – has grown into the cornerstone of the European game, working with and acting on behalf of Europe's national football associations and other stakeholders to promote football and strengthen the game's position.
The period leading up to the 1954 FIFA World Cup final round in Switzerland, when the world body FIFA celebrated its 50th birthday, was crucial in moves towards the foundation of an umbrella body for European football. In the early 1950s, a number of visionary football administrators, including the former Italian Football Federation secretary and president, Dr Ottorino Barassi, and his counterparts within the French Football Federation and Belgian Football Association, Henri Delaunay and José Crahay, pursued the idea of forming a united European block. However, the movement supporting a body uniting Europe's national football associations gathered pace after FIFA had approved the statutory basis for the creation of continental football confederations in 1953.
It was clear in the early 1950s that continental authorities, rather than just one central worldwide body, were needed to supervise and direct football's constant growth. Discussions and proposals behind the scenes finally culminated in the calling of an official meeting for 15 June 1954 in Basle, and the official founding of UEFA. The body's first statutes were approved at the inaugural UEFA Congress in Vienna on 2 March 1955. From then on, UEFA was at the vanguard of every decisive step forward in European football. The early figureheads were Ebbe Schwartz (Denmark), who became UEFA President on 22 June 1954, and Henri Delaunay, who was UEFA's first general secretary from the official founding meeting until 9 November 1955, when he was succeeded by his son Pierre Delaunay (France), first on an interim basis, and then officially from 8 June 1956.
The European Champion Clubs' Cup, Europe's flagship club event then featuring the continent's domestic champion clubs, was founded in April 1955 and a new European competition for senior national representative teams, the European Nations' Cup, got under way in 1958 after two years of groundwork. UEFA also took over responsibility from FIFA in 1956 for staging the International Youth Tournament, an event which had been staged since 1948.
UEFA's initial steps as a parent body for European football were followed by expansion during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The UEFA Executive Committee was its initial sole decision-making authority, but additional expert committees were gradually introduced to deal with the various aspects of the game, and UEFA's range of activities continued to grow. UEFA President Ebbe Schwartz led this period of expansion until April 1962, when he was succeeded by Gustav Wiederkehr (Switzerland). On 1 April 1960, Hans Bangerter (Switzerland) succeeded Pierre Delaunay as general secretary – a position he was to hold for nearly three decades.
At the same time, the number of competitions increased. The UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (then titled European Cup Winners' Cup), open to domestic cup-winners, was staged for the first time in 1960/61, and the inaugural European/South American Cup, contested by the winners of the champion clubs' competitions on the two continents, took place in 1960.
UEFA's duties and role developed further as the 1960s wore on. In addition to the formation of even more expert committees, UEFA diversified as it gained in stature, promoting constant dialogue and a continual search for improvement within the European game. Regular instruction courses for coaches and referees were introduced, as well as conferences for general secretaries and presidents of the national associations. More comprehensive agreements with the media and broadcasting organisations became essential, in particular concerning regulation of television transmissions of football matches.
The European Nations' Cup was given the grander title of the UEFA European Football Championship in time for the 1968 final round. Considerable emphasis was placed on the development of young footballers, and a national-team competition for players under the age of 23 was launched.
By the 1970s, football was enjoying tremendous mass public appeal, and UEFA kept pace with developments. The Inter-Cities' Fairs Cup, established in 1955, came under UEFA's full control and was renamed the UEFA Cup in 1971. The UEFA Super Cup, involving the winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, officially came into being in 1973. Three years later, a European Under-21 competition replaced the Under-23 competition and the number of UEFA European Football Championship final round participants doubled from four to eight teams for the 1980 final round in Italy.
A multitude of other important decisions were taken. Binding recommendations were issued on the maintenance of stadium order (1976); the disciplinary bodies (Control and Disciplinary Committee and Board of Appeal) were separated from the rest of UEFA's administration and guaranteed independent status (1972); standard regulations were adopted for all UEFA club competitions (1972); and subsidies were paid for the first time to clubs suffering deficits after early elimination in the club competitions (1971). On 7 July 1972, UEFA President Gustav Wiederkehr died suddenly. His successor from 15 March 1973 was Artemio Franchi (Italy).
By the start of the 1980s, the International Youth Tournament had mutated into separate European competitions for Under-18 and Under-16 teams. The women's game also forged its own identity – 1982 saw the inaugural European women's competition. Away from the competition scene, UEFA was no less active. It was at the forefront of safety and security improvements at football matches in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Belgium in 1985, with stringent security requirements and provisions for all-seated spectators put into place at UEFA matches. By doing this, UEFA made a key contribution in the development of modern, multi-purpose venues in which fans can watch football matches in total comfort and safety. In 1983, Artemio Franchi was tragically killed in a car accident in Italy. Jacques Georges (France) took over the role of UEFA President for the rest of the 1980s – a period which heralded the start of dramatic changes within European football and saw UEFA adapting to challenging new times ahead.
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