UEFA President Michel Platini has called for support from European governments in helping European football protect certain key values and face up to negative challenges that are endangering the game's future well-being.
In an address to an informal meeting of the sports ministers of European Union (EU) countries in Krakow, Poland – continuing the invaluable dialogue between UEFA and the European political authorities – Mr Platini highlighted the fight against match-fixing, UEFA's financial fair play measures, and the crucial role played by national teams within the football landscape. He called on governments to take appropriate action, to help UEFA in particular lay the groundwork for a positive future.
Mr Platini began by expressing UEFA's concerns about match-fixing. "European sport is tormented today by a moral evil, an evil as profound as it is intangible," he said, urging ministers to act on what he described as "an indispensable challenge".
"I have described the situation as intolerable because not a week goes by now without a report somewhere about match-fixing linked, I stress, to so-called 'sports' betting activities. These illegal activities clearly threaten the integrity of competitions, but in particular they undermine what all of us – I am sure – consider some of the most fundamental values of modern society.
"Faced with this problem, UEFA and the sports movement have not been sitting idly by, remained passive or adopted a wait-and-see policy. On the contrary, we have stepped up our efforts, initiatives and indeed courage in an attempt to prevent the manipulation of results for betting purposes," the UEFA President continued. "But you have to understand that we cannot combat this scourge on our own. Why not? The answer is as simple as it is worrying: because match-fixing has become the favourite pastime of organised criminal networks.
"Match-fixing represents a blatant attack on public order, which is precisely why intervention by the public authorities is justified," Mr Platini said. "We have reached the point where the situation requires strategic action ... a strategy based on the criminalisation of sports fraud on the one hand, and recognition of the property rights of competition organisers on the other.
"It is not legislation that I am asking for here. I am simply calling for the fair recognition of a right: the right of European football not to run the risk of becoming the victim, if not the slave, of online betting and organised crime."
Mr Platini turned to UEFA's financial fair play measures. "Financial fair play is based on a simple yet deeply virtuous philosophy: the notion that clubs should not spend money that they do not have," he said. "I also believe that this philosophy has acquired new impetus as a result of the economic crisis that is currently sweeping across our continent. Some may ask 'why not continue turning a blind eye to clubs' expenditure?' Quite simply, because the current situation is bad: last year professional clubs accumulated losses of more than €1.2bn.
"Fairness is openly flouted – in fact, it is ridiculed," he added. "When clubs go into debt in order to sign star players, when teams buy titles on credit, when players are no longer paid by their employers, it seems to me that we are in a situation of disorder and anarchy that can no longer go on. I urge you to pledge your formal support so that financial fair play can become part of the moral order of football today and tomorrow."
Addressing the survival of the national teams, Mr Platini said: "The European sports model is based on open competitions in which clubs and national teams coexist in harmony. I have seen for myself to what extent the big national team competitions encourage a real European cultural heritage. Today, however, there is a serious risk that players will no longer be released when called up to defend the colours, honour and values of their country. This situation worries me to the extent that I believe it is now necessary to draw up rules in order to protect the future of the national teams."
Mr Platini ended his address with a positive message to the ministers. "Even though sport may seem tormented," he said, "your presence here reminds me that above all it is a truly unique educational tool that teaches us how to live together in society – respect for others, unselfishness, openness to diversity and integration are all virtues which sport conveys and which help to establish an active, exemplary European citizenship, especially among the young.
"For me, and for over half a billion other European citizens, sport carries the hopes of the future," the UEFA President added. "It is therefore vital that we join forces to protect its values, not least respect, which will without a doubt make Europe more inclusive, more peaceful and more solidarity-based than ever.
"The future of European sport, as I hope to have demonstrated, will be built on concrete initiatives, respecting the key principles that characterise UEFA: excellence, sharing, openness, democracy and unity," Michel Platini concluded. "These values are also at the heart of the European project conceived by Robert Schuman. This only increases my attachment to them, as well as to their promotion in everyday life, right across the continent. I hope that this shared value base will give you every reason to trust us and to act together with us, in particular by providing the whole sports movement with the legal certainty it so desperately needs, not least in order to combat match-fixing."
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