Friends of Football
The group of 'Friends of Football' - eleven men and two women - were welcomed by European football's governing body for a visit that UEFA feels has opened a new era in its relations with the European political authorities. They were Ivo Belet (Belgium), Richard Corbett (UK), Ryszard Cznarnecki (Poland), Szabolcs Fazakas (Hungary), Glyn Ford (UK), Neena Gill (UK), Lasse Lehtinen (Finland), Manolis Mavrommatis (Greece), Christa Prets (Austria), Jacek Protasiewicz (Poland), José Silva Peneda (Portugal), Hannu Takkula (Finland) and Tadeusz Zwiefka (Poland).
The trip was put together by UEFA's Brussels office with the aim of allowing MEPs to see how UEFA operates on a daily basis. The office in the Belgian capital, run by Jonathan Hill, was inaugurated in 2003 after UEFA decided that it needed a permanent base there, given the growing number of political issues that affect football, with decisions being made at European level. UEFA and the EU are in constant contact on a variety of issues. These include broadcasting rules, freedom of movement for labour, doping and the fight against racism, as well as the protection of the autonomy of sport's governing bodies.
FIFA vice-president David Will, representing the UEFA Executive Committee, chaired the discussions in Nyon, in which the MEPs were given an insight into UEFA's activities since its foundation in 1954, as well as its 'Vision Europe' strategy for the future. UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson also spoke of the various challenges that UEFA and the European football family are facing - including the role of players' agents and the position of sport within the European Union.
Mr Olsson outlined some of the initiatives that UEFA and its member associations are undertaking: the new club licensing scheme, introduced by UEFA last season as a means of ensuring the game's future well-being; the Top Executive Programme, in which UEFA is reinforcing its co-operation with its 52 member associations; more severe sporting sanctions to punish bad behaviour on and off the pitch; and a new working group on players' agents.
Rights and rules
Gianni Infantino, UEFA's director of legal services, led discussions on the central marketing of broadcasting rights and UEFA’s new rules on the local training of players. MEPs responded positively to the arguments put forward and indicated their willingness to lend support. Activities to ensure fans' safety and combat hooliganism also came under the spotlight, while time was also devoted to UEFA's work against racism, in conjunction with the Football Against Racism in Europe network, as well as its charity portfolio and work with organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
All participants felt that the visit had helped move relations between UEFA and the European Parliament on to a new plane. UEFA and the MEPs have a better understanding of each other's needs, and work to nurture dialogue can only have been boosted by the discussions that have taken place.
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