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In the 1990s and new millenium, European football experienced explosive growth and development. Aspects such as television, business and finance, marketing, sponsorship and global communication changed the face of the game, and political upheavals altered the map of Europe.
Once again, UEFA was able to stay in tune with the times, and initiated or was involved in a variety of innovative measures in all sectors of the sport. The UEFA figureheads during this hectic period were president Lennart Johansson (Sweden), who was elected to office in 1990, and Gerhard Aigner (Germany), who succeeded Hans Bangerter (Switzerland) as general secretary in 1989 before being renamed chief executive under UEFA's programme to herald the new millennium. Mr Aigner retired in December 2003 to be replaced by Lars-Christer Olsson (Sweden) for UEFA's Jubilee year in 2004.
For the first time, sixteen teams took part in a UEFA European Championship final round in England in 1996, and the competition now ranks alongside the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games as a global sporting spectacle. On the club competition front, UEFA made wholesale changes to the European Champion Clubs' Cup from 1992 onwards. The competition became the UEFA Champions League, and is arguably the most prestigious club event in the world, with extraordinary commercial appeal.
In another important move to adapt its club competitions to changing circumstances on the European football scene, the decision was taken in 1999 to abolish the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup competition, and to expand the UEFA Cup. From 2004/05, the latter competition featured a group phase, as well as knockout rounds, and further adjustments are being made for the future to enhance the competition's image. Both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup – from 2009, renamed the UEFA Europa League – proved to be powerful commercial and sporting entities which not only generate revenue for European football's well-being, but also captivate football enthusiasts, as they feature many of the world's top stars playing for some of the most famous clubs on the globe.
By the start of the 1980s, the International Youth Tournament had mutated into separate European competitions for Under-18 and Under-16 teams. They are now a permanent fixture in the UEFA calendar – featuring the stars of the future – and the 2001/02 season saw these two competitions become Under-17 and Under-19 championships, in accordance with FIFA's measure to amend the qualifying date for players' eligibility. The women's game also forged its own identity – 1982 saw the inaugural European women's competition, which evolved into a European championship by 1989 – and the inaugural European women's club competition was launched in 2001/02. European national-team and club competitions for Futsal players were also introduced in the latter period.
New countries emerged in eastern Europe from the start of the 1990s, bringing the birth of new associations, national and club teams, and this in turn led to the expansion in size of the various UEFA competitions. Such constant expansion was reflected in the continued regular introduction of new competitions (the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1995, a women's Under-18 championship in 1997/98, and the UEFA Regions' Cup for amateur footballers in 1999). As football became more commercially-driven, UEFA continued to give vital emphasis to reinvesting the funds generated by its activities back into the game at all levels.
Away from the competition scene, UEFA was no less active. It was at the forefront of moves to improve safety and security at football matches in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Belgium in 1985, with stringent security requirements and provisions for all-seated spectators put into place at UEFA matches. By doing this, UEFA made a key contribution in the development of modern, multi-purpose venues in which fans can watch football matches in total comfort and safety.
Sportsmanlike conduct on and off the field became a focal point thanks to UEFA's various Fair Play campaigns. Close links were forged with other football continents, in particular with Africa through the Meridian Project in the late 1990s, and UEFA used its resources to give assistance not only to the less fortunate in football terms, but also to those in need, as a contribution to humanitarian and social actions.
During the 1990s, the integration process within western Europe brought about the intensification of contacts between UEFA and the European Union on a host of matters, including cross-border television broadcasts. The Bosman ruling by the European Court of Justice in 1995 obliged UEFA (and European football as a whole) to make wide-ranging changes to regulations and policies on international transfers, as well as on the fielding by clubs of foreign players. In 2001, following intensive negotiations, UEFA and FIFA joined forces to reach agreement with the European political authorities on a mutually-accepted international transfer system which was aimed at stabilising player/club relations, particularly from a contractual point of view, and protecting the smaller clubs, many of whom discover, train and develop the superstars of today and tomorrow.
By the year 2000, UEFA had become a markedly different organisation to the one which first saw the light of day half a century ago. The body was now a vibrant hive of activity with its own corporate identity and image, fully in keeping with the demands of the business world of the new millennium.