UEFA is not merely paying lip service with its motto of ‘caring about football’. European football’s governing body has consistently shown that it is prepared to put ideas and theories into practice in order to help the less wealthy or developing football nations on this continent and elsewhere. Moreover, such assistance, commitment and involvement is not simply limited to football: UEFA has also demonstrated its willingness to make its resources and influence available in areas such as disaster relief, anti-personnel mine campaigns, and support for children affected by war and hostilities. UEFA’s heart also beats for the handicapped, who are being given constant encouragement to express themselves on football fields.
Football-related assistance from UEFA has taken giant steps in recent years. It was given particular impetus with the founding of the East European Assistance Bureau (EEAB), which began operations as a separate department within the UEFA secretariat on 1 January 1994. The EEAB subsequently became part of the Assistance and Development Department (ADD) in 1997 as UEFA embraced other projects which are explained elsewhere in this section, and was assigned to the Assistance Programmes unit under the reorganisation of UEFA’s structures in 2000. The basic principle behind this UEFA unit’s work was to provide an aid programme to ten national football associations which emerged from the break-up of the former USSR - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine - as well as Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and from February 1999, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In March 2003, UEFA announced that it was committing considerable funds to its 52 associations via a new assistance programme, the HatTrick scheme. Financial aid, mini-pitches and education are the official goals of the scheme, which will be funded from UEFA's expected income from the UEFA EURO 2004™ final round in Portugal in 2004. From 1 August 2003, associations have been able to apply for grants to help improve their countries' football infrastructure. Each association will receive yearly solidarity payments from 2004 until 2008 under an incentive scheme which aims to encourage the implementation of UEFA's club licensing system and participation in youth and women's football competitions.
The playing of football is also being promoted through UEFA funding for the building by associations of mini-pitches and practice areas. UEFA has offered each of its member associations a mini-pitch to commemorate its Jubilee in 2004, to encourage youngsters to play football. In addition, specific courses and assistance will be offered to each association in accordance with its needs.
In 1996, UEFA and its sister confederation in Africa, the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), had launched the Meridian Project - an ambitious plan which aims at further developing the game in Africa from both a technical and administrative point of view. Impressive performances by African teams in recent world senior and youth competitions, as well as the flow of talented African players to European clubs over the years, demonstrates the considerable footballing potential that exists on the African continent. UEFA and CAF have joined forces to foster this potential, especially at youth level. UEFA’s view is that by helping to strengthen football in developing nations, it is strengthening the world game as a whole. As part of the programme, CAF has been invited to select, every two years, two African associations to benefit from UEFA’s assistance. Chad and Namibia were the first two countries selected, in 1997, and they profited from the experience acquired by UEFA over the years, particularly as a result of the East European project. In Spring 1999, Eritrea and Niger were chosen as the next two "beneficiaries" to receive direct assistance via the Meridian project, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Principe followed them, and Ethiopia and the Central African Republic have also benefitted from a special two-year aid programme.
National football associations in Europe have also been encouraged to enter into partnership agreements with their African counterparts. In addition, the co-operation programme between Europe and Africa came within the framework of the European Union’s European Year Against Racism in 1997. The Meridian Project kicked off in January 1997 with an ‘all-star’ match between teams from Europe and Africa, played at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, and featuring a host of world-famous names.
This was followed immediately by the inaugural Meridian Cup Under-17 tournament, which also took place in Portugal. The second Meridian Cup tournament was staged in Cape Town (South Africa) in 1999, and Bari (southern Italy) hosted the third tournament in 2001. Egypt was the venue for the next Meridian Cup in 2003. In the four tournaments held so far, UEFA and CAF have been represented by four Under-17 teams each, and each tournament has represented a wonderful chance for young players to experience different cultures and customs. Turkey will host the next tournament in 2005.
Since 1999, UEFA has been supporting a football development project set up by Special Olympics - the world’s largest sports training and competition project for children and adults with mental handicaps. Approximately 25,000 Special Olympics athletes in Europe/Eurasia alone are involved in the sport, and UEFA has joined forces with Special Olympics as part of a campaign to give handicapped people at all levels the necessary self-esteem and confidence to play football. Spring 2001 saw the stepping-up of the co-operation between the two organisations, with UEFA giving committed support to a Special Olympics European Football Week in more then 30 countries, involving sports bodies, the business sector and local communities in special competitions, training programmes and public awareness activities. UEFA was delighted to see that the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin in summer 2003, featuring competitors from throughout the globe, were a tremendous success. It is hoped that, through the UEFA/Special Olympics tie-up, the number of handicapped people playing football will increase by another 25,000 by 2005.
Humanitarian and anti-racist causes
UEFA has established close links with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in recent years, supporting the ICRC campaign in aid of children effected by war. Backing is also given to the grassroots football programme of the Danish Cross-Cultures Project Association (CCPA) in the Balkans and Caucasus regions. Moreover, UEFA is at the forefront of the fight against racism in football with its support for the pan-European Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) movement and its active campaigning on this issue.
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