True to its role as the umbrella body of European football, UEFA will continue to do its utmost to safeguard the essence and spirit of the game in what is sure to be a fascinating 2014.
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Following a hectic and productive 2013, UEFA has set the course towards 2014 in conjunction with its 54 member associations – always mindful of preserving football's continued good health, and determined that the game's values should be upheld across the continent.
On the field, 13 European teams, including the holders Spain, will travel to Brazil this summer hoping to become the first European side to clinch the 2014 FIFA World Cup on South American soil. Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Switzerland venture to the tournament with the best wishes of UEFA and the European football family.
In the meantime, the UEFA EURO 2016 final tournament in France edges ever closer, starting with the eagerly-awaited qualifying competition draw in Nice on 23 February. Autumn will see the qualifying phase kick off. Preparations continue apace, in particular at the ten stadiums that will stage matches, as well as in the host cities. "There is a remarkable atmosphere of cooperation between the French government, the FFF and UEFA under the guidance of Jacques Lambert, the EURO 2016 SAS president," said UEFA President Michel Platini last October of the event which will be known as Le Rendez-Vous.
Further into the future, UEFA EURO 2020 – the "EURO for Europe" – will take further shape. A total of 32 European national associations have declared an interest in hosting games at the 2020 UEFA European Championship. Candidates must submit their final bid dossier by 25 April 2014, and the UEFA Executive Committee will take a decision on the 13 host cities on 25 September 2014.
Kazakhstan will be the focus of UEFA activities in March, when the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress takes place in Astana. The UEFA member associations are being consulted on a draft 11-point resolution for the integrity of football in advance of a vote to be taken at the Congress. Indeed, fighting match-fixing is a priority activity for UEFA. "Even one match fixed is one match too many," said UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino at December's UEFA Executive Committee meeting in Bilbao.
Meanwhile, on the field, the club competitions are now into their knockout stages ahead of two potentially mouth-watering finals. Lisbon will stage the UEFA Champions League final at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on Saturday 24 May, while Juventus Stadium hosts the final of the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League on Wednesday 14 May.
Financial fair play's positive impact will continue to be felt across European football – amid extremely encouraging signs that clubs are heeding the measures and managing their finances in a more pragmatic and disciplined manner. Clubs participating in UEFA competitions have had their transfer and employee payables monitored since the summer of 2011, and the break-even assessment covering the financial years ending 2012 and 2013 will be assessed during 2013/14.
"Financial fair play is an initiative designed to regulate the financial system in football after years of increasingly huge losses," said Michel Platini at the start of this season. "We do not want to kill the clubs; we want to work together and create a healthy and sustainable environment for clubs and for European football."
Across UEFA and Europe, diligent work is afoot. The UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP) is proving to be a crucial factor in the flourishing of the women's game. UEFA's new elite youth club competition, the UEFA Youth League, is enjoying a successful debut season. On 21 May 2014, the fifth UEFA Grassroots Day will take place throughout Europe – a celebration underlining that football is a sport for all.
With UEFA celebrating its 60th birthday this year, the relationship between UEFA and its national associations is closer than ever, and assistance programmes such as HatTrick, KISS and the Study Group Scheme see vital help being given to the associations, as well as invaluable information and expertise being exchanged among them. UEFA's social responsibility work also reflects the body's beating social heart, showing how football can act as a unifying force and heal the scars of conflict.
UEFA will remain committed to winning the fight against racism. "We are not just talking a good game; we are facing up to our responsibilities," says Michel Platini. "UEFA does not fight discrimination in order to increase its popularity ... it does so because this is the right thing to do. Football is characterised by swapping and sharing. It is the team sport par excellence. Football integrates; it does not exclude. Football is inclusive and welcoming; it does not isolate. That is its primary function."
"Working for football, we have everything … we need to be happy, but aware also of our responsibilities," Mr Platini concluded in his speech at last year's UEFA Congress in London. "But if we always remember that it is our duty to protect the game, the players and our values, those of the national associations, we will have right on our side. For we should not fool ourselves: protecting the game, the players and our values is essential; protecting the game, the players and our values is our mission; protecting the game, the players and our values should always be what guides our actions…."
The year 2014 will see UEFA doing its very utmost to safeguard the essence and spirit of the beautiful game.