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UEFA's EU embassy

Published: Friday 1 October 2004, 12.00CET
UEFA's office in Brussels gives football a voice at the heart of the European Union.
Published: Friday 1 October 2004, 12.00CET

UEFA's EU embassy

UEFA's office in Brussels gives football a voice at the heart of the European Union.

By Simon Hart in Brussels

The Bosman ruling's effects on the relationship between footballers and their clubs need no explanation here, but the decision of the European Union's Court of Justice in Luxembourg in December 1995 also shattered an old assumption among football's governing bodies.

Lessons learned
Up to then, the general understanding - according to UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson - was that "when it came to sport you were fine with a handshake". Sport was sport and as such was left largely to its own devices. Bosman changed all that and the presence of Olsson and other UEFA officials in Brussels during the past two weeks enforces his observation that "we all learned something" from events of nearly a decade ago.

Fortnight of events
Olsson attended the 20 September opening at the European Parliament of UEFA's Jubilee exhibition, a display of the European governing body's 50-year history, which prefaced a fortnight of events culminating in the 2nd UEFA Seminar on the European Union on 30 September and 1 October. Representatives of 35 UEFA member associations were present at the seminar.

Important time
This is an important time for sport in Brussels - 2004 is the European Year of Education through Sport and the new EU treaty, which was signed in June and is due to become operational in 2006, includes for the first time an article on sport, Article 282. This will create a new legal framework for sport and UEFA is keen to have its say. Jonathan Hill, who heads UEFA's European Union representative office, said that Article 282 would "create new debate within the EU about sporting issues".

'Not like other industries'
For UEFA one of the principal concerns is that the EU respects the specific nature of sport. Hill told "UEFA is constantly having to explain and communicate to policy-makers that sport is different, that it is not like other industries and that when the European Union is making rules and applying those rules it treats sport with some sensitivity."

Footballing exceptions
For example, one issue certain to generate future discussion is UEFA's professed wish to introduce some form of system for promoting homegrown players in club squads, something Hill described as a "sensitive subject".

Building relations
Following the EU's expansion to 25 member states, a new European Parliament was elected in June and a new European Commission will assume control in November, and Hill considered it "crucial for UEFA that we build good relations with the new institutions". He said: "Our efforts to influence the European Union are long-term and we are trying to win a number of long-term debates about how to govern sport. This is already our second seminar on European Union affairs, there's the Jubilee exhibition, and we've created a group called the Friends of Football in the European Parliament at the moment. We have somewhere between 15 and 30 MEPs that we know well and who are very interested in what we are doing."

The big picture
The Jubilee exhibition has certainly helped win friends. "I think people have also seen the other side of UEFA - the good work in areas like education, fighting racism, fighting doping, and promoting the women's game and the disabled game," he said. "All these things people don't necessarily see because they've perhaps become a little fixated with the game's élite."

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