By Simon Hart in Brussels
Solidarity and integrity were the key themes underlined by UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson as the UEFA Jubilee Exhibition opened at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday evening.
The exhibition, which will remain at the European Parliament until 1 October, charts the history of UEFA over its 50 years in existence. Besides documenting the development of European football and its competitions during that time, it also explains UEFA's social function, including its present-day projects to help the game's grassroots, to fight racism, and to encourage football for the disabled.
Mr Olsson, who was accompanied by UEFA vice-president Per Ravn Omdal, told the 250 guests inside the Parliament building that his task was to "to keep the football family together to safeguard solidarity in football". To this end, he stressed the need to maintain a fair distribution of wealth through the game, citing the contrast between the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA European Championship.
"Our most important task is to take care of the solidarity element in European football," he said. "For example in the Champions League 75 per cent of the money goes to the participating clubs. For the EURO, 100 per cent of the money goes to the national associations."
Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for Education and Culture, said the exhibition emphasised the "wonderful role in our society" that football occupies. She explained: "I have been going around this exhibition seeing not only the development of the game in these 50 years but also the investment football has made in society and education."
Present at the reception were Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), European Commission officials, member state representatives and journalists. The English MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris hosted the event in his capacity as chairman of the Friends of Football Group, who will have a working lunch with UEFA officials on Wednesday.
UEFA is keen to strengthen its relationship with Brussels and the event offered the opportunity to meet politicians with influence in the sporting arena - notably Marianne Hildebrand, the Swedish head of the European Commission's Sports Unit, along with German MEP Elmar Brok, Hungarian MEP Pál Schmitt and the Dutchman Toine Manders.
The timing of the event was significant as UEFA's Jubilee coincides not only with the European Year of Education Through Sport but also the introduction of an article on sport in the new European Union treaty. That treaty is in the process of being ratified and will be completed by the end of 2006.
From the European Parliament, the exhibition will move to the Stade Roi Baudouin - the former Heysel stadium - where it will be open to the public from 4-8 October, before transferring to England's National Football Museum in Preston. That museum has assisted UEFA by providing a collection of football memorabilia to accompany the exhibition and Mr Omdal thanked them for "sharing their comprehensive findings and knowledge about football history and making this splendid exhibition possible".
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