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President addresses Council of Europe ministers

UEFA President Michel Platini called for concerted cooperation between sport and Europe's authorities in a speech to the Council of Europe Conference for Ministers Responsible for Sport.

UEFA President Michel Platini
UEFA President Michel Platini ©Oleksandr Zadiraka

Strong action against match-fixing, combating spectator violence, implementing financial fair play, and the settling of sporting disputes by sports courts. Four topics raised by UEFA President Michel Platini in a speech to the 12th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Sport in Belgrade on Thursday.

Mr Platini called in particular for an international convention on match-fixing and for match-fixing to be made a criminal offence, to confront a phenomenon which, he said, was endangering sport's fabric. The UEFA President pledged strong measures on violence in stadiums and explained why UEFA's financial fair play measures aimed to bring financial stability to the game.

The UEFA President also insisted on the essential nature of national-team football as a source of identity and European heritage, as well as on the need for sporting disputes to be settled by sports' judicial bodies rather than civil courts.

"In September I came to you to decry an evil that is destroying the glorious uncertainty of sport, namely online betting-related match-fixing," said Mr Platini in opening his address. "Match-fixing has caused serious alarm, I would say tremendous fear even. Fear, because behind each of these matches lurk organised criminal networks and these criminal networks exploit loopholes in the law to ransack entire competitions.

"Match-fixing is a matter of law and order. It cannot be resolved, therefore, using the resources of sports bodies alone. Europe must work together in the face of match-fixing. I therefore request immediate assistance from the member states of the Council of Europe: match-fixing must be made a criminal offence. Match-fixing must be outlawed.

"With the same conviction, I would also say that there must be effective cooperation between the police and judicial authorities of European countries to destroy the strength of these criminals. I am convinced that the wisest way of protecting the integrity of our sports is international cooperation. I am in favour of an international convention on match-fixing. This convention would, of course, be just one step towards sincerity and integrity in sport. But it would also be an indispensable step and strong evidence of our intent."

Turning to violence, Mr Platini said that his desire to combat the phenomenon was based on emotion and determination. "For too long," he said, "we thought we had done away with violence. For too long we kept our eyes closed. The problem has still not been solved.

"That is why we have agreed to work together, with the Council of Europe. We will construct an imposing edifice of safety, security and peace in all our stadiums." This joint effort, the UEFA President said, would be based on the 1985 European convention on spectator violence and misbehaviour, especially at football matches.

On the subject of financial fair play, Mr Platini described the financial position of football clubs as "extremely perilous". He pointed out that in 2010, European clubs accumulated losses of more than €1.6bn. "These figures illustrate the fragility of the system itself, which has turned some of these clubs into gigantic casinos," he reflected.

"We need to lead football towards financial discipline," he said. "We need financial fair play. I can sum up this approach with two common-sense principles: 'live within your means' and 'there is a limit beyond which you must not go'. The situation has become untenable. We are therefore taking action. I ask one thing of you ... to protect financial fair play. I am asking you to replace dangerous uncertainties with legal solutions."

Mr Platini went on to speak of national-team competitions as "the true expression of European citizenship. I would even say that they contribute to the cultural heritage of our continent. And yet national teams are experiencing difficult times – their legitimacy is undermined by the reluctance of some to release players.

"In the face of this uncertain situation, one country has established the compulsory release of national-team players as a principle in its national legislation. That country is Spain. Such an initiative proves one thing: that it is possible to put an end to this problem.”

The UEFA President concluded his address by raising the topic of sporting justice which, he said, "is now threatened on a daily basis by schemes designed to rob it of its prerogatives".

"Let us not allow purely sporting disputes to be taken before state courts. Ask yourselves, what would happen if the rules were interpreted differently in Madrid, Rome and Brussels? I am committed to giving our arbitration procedures the guarantees they desperately need."

Mr Platini closed by calling for concerted cooperation between sport and European authorities for the future well-being of the continent. "Every day I see how, for millions of Europeans, sport represents a refuge, a horizon, an identity," he said. "If Europe were to lose all that, Europe as we know it would no longer exist. Let us work together to give sport the common-sense rules it requires. This is our common fight – for the sustainability of sport and the future of Europe."