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UEFA President Michel Platini has spoken of the positive values that football can teach to European society - and has repeated UEFA's pledge to eliminate violence and racism from the game, calling on the help of Europe's major clubs in the fight to do so.
Addressing the UEFA Champions League group-stage draw ceremony in Monaco, Mr Platini also reflected on European football's sorrow at the tragic death of Sevilla FC midfielder Antonio Puerta following a cardiac arrest suffered at a Primera División match last weekend.
"Football owes itself to be an example in our societies," said Mr Platini. "Football must teach values to Europe - honesty, courage, fraternity, tolerance and peace. Football includes, integrates and welcomes. It excludes no one, it discriminates against no one, it persecutes no one. The battle we have undertaken against racism and discrimination is a combat which will only stop when these phenomena have disappeared from our stadiums. With the [UEFA] Executive Committee, we will continue to be intransigent."
He added: "When a forward misses a certain goal, when a goalkeeper makes an error with a simple shot, this is totally acceptable. But racism and violence in football are completely unacceptable in football - there must be zero tolerance. We have already taken severe measures, and we will continue to take them while we have not eradicated this scourge. You, those responsible from the major European clubs must help us in this task. Do not submit to the blackmail of certain groups who only represent themselves. Make the effort to implement a system of qualified stewards. Only recognise supporters' associations which clearly and unambiguously reject violence and racism. Together, let us change football and promote solidarity, make it more fraternal and more fun to enjoy."
Mr Platini spoke of football's grief at the death of Puerta on Tuesday following a heart attack suffered during Sevilla's match against Getafe CF last Saturday. "The world of football is in mourning. To his family, his friends and our friends at Sevilla, I would like to express my deepest sympathy and the sincere condolences of the entire football family." The draw delegates then observed a moment of silence for Puerta.
The UEFA President went on to speak of the importance of club football, saying: "You [the 32 clubs in the group stage] represent the summit of the pyramid which has thousands of clubs on our continent at its base. Sometimes, it has been written that the UEFA Champions League was monotonous, and that the same clubs always win. A little research shows us that the contrary is quite true. Since 1992/93, when the new formula was launched, there have been 15 editions, and eleven different winners from seven different countries, and no club has won the trophy twice in succession. I challenge you to find another competition in the world which is as open as this one.
"The UEFA Champions League indeed shows sport's glorious uncertainty," he added. "I have played in [the European Champion Clubs' Cup], and I won it in conditions that I would wish on nobody [at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels in 1985]. It is a unique, inimitable competition, and we will do our utmost to preserve it, groom it and make it even more attractive."
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