It was around this time last year that the opportunity came for me to address the Leaders in Football Conference in London – and it was an important opportunity, as it provided the platform that enabled UEFA to put national team football back onto the public agenda.
The 'week of football' concept – whereby major tournament qualifying matches will be spread from Thursday to Tuesday from 2014 – was born out of a series of discussions and consultations with the UEFA member associations, where the instruction was given to raise the profile of national team football. That was to be the key objective for the four-year term until 2015, and one year into that cycle, significant progress has been made.
I mentioned in London words to the effect that national team football was the "heartbeat of our sport", and these words remain valid, because one of the steps aimed at raising national team football to the elite level – similar to the level enjoyed by club football for some time – has been achieved. By centralising the media and marketing rights for national team football – including the UEFA European Under-21 Championship and the UEFA European Women's Championship – we are in a position to create a more level playing field for the football family.
This objective has manifested itself from a commercial standpoint, as we will work with recently appointed partners to manage the exploitation of the marketing opportunities that surround all of our national team competitions. But what will it mean for football fans who will watch UEFA EURO 2016 and 2018 FIFA World Cup matches?
Working within the framework of the international match calendar which has been agreed with all stakeholders – namely FIFA, the confederations, associations, leagues, clubs and players – we want to get the best deal possible for European football. We want to be in a position to replace friendly internationals with double-header fixtures and to harmonise kick-off times in line with the approach that currently exists in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
This means more choice and more opportunities for fans to watch live football. We also wish to restore national team football's profile at weekends, a time at which we do not want to concede ground to other sports, because we strongly believe we have an excellent competition to offer.
Not only that, but the time is right. National team football is in excellent shape in Europe – and this was clearly demonstrated by the very high standard of the matches during UEFA EURO 2012. UEFA sets great store by the national team game as a source of national identity and national pride, and as a fascinating window onto a country's football and its footballers. National team football unites countries behind their national football team.
Our member associations were united in providing UEFA with the mandate – and we are well on our way to delivering on their behalf.
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