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UEFA President Michel Platini has made an impassioned plea for the safeguarding of football's essential values against a series of dangers threatening the game's fabric, in a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels.
Financial fair play
In Wednesday's address, Mr Platini advocated the idea of financial fair play to guarantee, among other things, competitive balance in European competitions. He insisted that football should not be treated as an economic activity, and that sport's specific nature should be recognised. Furthermore, the UEFA President called, among other things, for a halt to the trafficking of young footballers, with a ban on the international transfer of footballers under the age of 18.
'Values in danger'
"Football extends beyond borders, football irons out differences, and football unleashes passions," said Mr Platini. "Football, the sport that has brought me to where I am today and has given me the greatest emotions of my life, both positive and traumatic, is in danger ... the values that football represents are in danger."
Sport's specific nature
The UEFA President spoke of the need for recognition of sport's specific nature: "There is still a slightly perverse tendency within the European institutions to deny the unity of the football pyramid and to isolate the professional game at the top. And this is done in order to give substance to the false notion that professional football is an economic activity just like any other.
'Refuse to be tied'
"Unfortunately, this refusal to recognise the specificity of sport ... still exists in certain circles, in certain sectors, which consider competition law to be the fundamental law of Europe. We refuse categorically to be held in a straitjacket or tied to prefabricated models that are based on the false equation that professional sport equals a purely economic activity.
The UEFA President spoke of top-level football's incapacity to correct certain excesses, especially in terms of players' wages or transfer offers. "The European model of sport is based on open leagues, independent clubs and promotion and relegation," Mr Platini explained. "One thing is certain - European clubs are currently telling us that our system is in danger of financially imploding in the medium term. In consultation with them, but also ... spurred on by the reports of this Parliament, we are currently looking at the idea of limiting, to a certain degree, a club's expenditure on staff – salary and transfer fees combined – to an as yet undecided percentage of its direct and indirect sporting revenue.
'Strengthening the system'
"I believe that it is reasonable that UEFA should be able to decide independently under what conditions clubs may participate in the competitions that it organises. Of course, we will not impose any kind of diktat ... At the end of the day, we are only at the beginning of this discussion, but it will continue in the form of dialogue with the clubs about the future of our licensing system and any changes will be made on a consensual basis and with a view to strengthening this system.
"Please do not stop us, on the basis of inappropriate legislation, from establishing financial fair play. Do not stop us from putting in place mechanisms that foster the integrity of our competitions and more transparency in the management of our affairs. Do not stop us from acting morally. Especially when all the stakeholders – clubs, players and national associations – agree with my proposals for greater financial transparency and better governance."
Addressing the topic of child and young footballers, Mr Platini said: "Everyone is quite rightly shocked when they find out that children are employed in a factory that makes footballs. But when, the next day, a television programme shows young nine-year-old [Brazilian] prodigies ... and explains that big European clubs are prepared to invite one of these whizz kids to sign a contract, nobody seems to bat an eyelid. This is a typical example of double standards."
"Paying a child to kick a ball is not that different from paying a child to work on a production line. Both amount to exploiting child labour. And when you pay a child or their parents to travel overseas, when you uproot them from their home environment, when you make them emotionally disorientated, I call that child trafficking.
Protection of children
"I have therefore thought about this problem a great deal and I am now convinced that the international transfer of players under 18 should be prohibited, fully in accordance with the FIFA statutes. Some people talk about the free movement of workers. I am talking about the protection of children. Some talk about competition law. I am talking about the right to respect human integrity; a child's right to grow up surrounded by their friends and family."
'Force for integration'
Mr Platini told his audience that football is a powerful force for integration and tolerance in an uncertain Europe in crisis. "I believe that it is football's duty to lead the way in confronting social issues, and that it can even play a part in solving difficult political problems," he said. "Football transcends borders, cuts across barriers, does away with prejudices and fights discrimination wherever it needs to be fought. Tolerance of racism, exclusion, sexism or homophobia is unacceptable.
"The European Parliament is the largest democratically elected institution on our continent; UEFA organises and gives structure to something Europeans are extremely passionate about: together we can restore confidence in the positive values that Europe has to offer.
"For me, football remains a magnificent sport," Mr Platini said in concluding. "But if we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change. If we want to prevent football from losing its soul and being eaten away from within, we need to take the initiative and radically change certain types of behaviour and, in particular, certain rules. I will do all I can to make this happen."
Click here to read Mr Platini's speech in full.
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