UEFA president Michel Platini visited Finland for talks with senior officials from the Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF) and to open the Only A Game? exhibition in Turku – the European capital of culture for 2011.
The oldest city in Finland received Mr Platini with beautiful winter weather for the opening of the exhibition at the Logomo centre. The UEFA president welcomed the opportunity to visit Turku, saying: "I am really happy to open this exhibition here. As we know, football is the most beautiful and most popular game – but it is not only a game."
The Finnish minister for sports and culture Stefan Wallin greeted Mr Platini, and emphasised that the Only A Game? exhibition will be a key part of Turku's year as European captial of culture. "I want to thank Mr Platini and UEFA for bringing this exhibition to Turku," he said. "It is a wonderful exhibition and really brings out the joy of football. As the cultural capital, Turku will unite different forms of culture. Culture and sport can really support each other, as this exhibition shows."
During his trip, Mr Platini held talks with minister Wallin and Aleksi Randell, the mayor of Turku, as well as with SPL-FBF representatives led by president Sauli Niinistö and chief executive Kimmo J Lipponen. Talks with association officials focused on UEFA's invaluable help to Finland as part of the HatTrick assistance scheme.
Mr Niinistö, who is also speaker of the Finnish parliament, was delighted the exhibition had come to Turku, and reminded everyone of the meaning of football worldwide.
"This exhibition is an excellent opportunity to learn that football is more than just a game," he said. "The game also has a huge social significance, as it is certainly better to be on the pitch than on the street. I am also a politician, and sometimes I wonder if the whole world could act like the football family does – respecting each other."
The UEFA president also met local junior players, attending a mini-football match at the exhibition hall. The two-a-side game proved a tough contest – no surprise, as the top prize for the day was the UEFA Champions League Trophy, which Mr Platini presented to the winning team.
The presence of the famous trophy in Turku also clearly demonstrated the bridge between the grassroots level and the summit of the game. "It is most important to have good training and playing facilities for children, and make them part of the game," said Mr Platini, going on to underline that such elements at grassroots level helped pave the way for positive developments in the elite game.
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