A fascinating and exciting 2015 awaits UEFA on the pitch in all its various competitions, and off the field as it fulfils its role as the umbrella body of European football.
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Staying faithful to its mission as the governing body of European football, UEFA enters 2015 committed to safeguarding the game's values in an exciting year ahead.
Europe's football parliament, the XXXIX UEFA Ordinary Congress, brings the European national associations together in Vienna on 24 March. Elections for the UEFA Presidency and seven positions on the UEFA Executive Committee are on the agenda. By the deadline of 24 December 2014 for submissions of candidacy for the UEFA Presidency, only one candidate had been announced: current UEFA President Michel Platini, who will seek a third four-year term of office from 2015 to 2019.
The deadline for the remaining posts up for election at the Vienna Congress is 24 January 2015. In addition to the seven Executive Committee positions, elections will take place for the FIFA Executive Committee: one vice-president, one vice-president representing the four British associations and one member.
The lineup for the UEFA EURO 2016 final tournament will be known towards the end of the year. Until then, excitement is guaranteed in what will doubtless be a tense and tight qualifying competition, which closes in mid-October. Hosts France, the nine group winners, the nine group runners-up and the best third-placed side will qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs in mid-November to determine the last four qualifiers for the finals, before Paris hosts the final tournament draw on Saturday 12 December.
The European club competitions have reached the knockout stages, with two eagerly-anticipated finals at the end of the road. Berlin stages this season's UEFA Champions League final at the Olympiastadion on Saturday 6 June, while the National Stadium in Warsaw hosts the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League final on Wednesday 27 May. Later this summer, the UEFA Super Cup goes east, and Georgia is excited at the prospect of staging the match between the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League winners in Tbilisi on 11 August.
Talented youngsters will cherish their moments in the spotlight. UEFA's home town of Nyon greets the last four clubs in the UEFA Youth League for the competition finals between 10 and 13 April. The latest U21 final round will be held in the Czech Republic from 17 to 30 June. Greece hosts the UEFA European Under-19 Championship from 6 to 19 July, and Bulgaria stages the first 16-team U17 final round since 2002 from 6 to 22 May. Amateur players are looking forward to a European stage to play on in the 9th UEFA Regions' Cup finals in late June.
Women's football will enjoy a high-profile summer, with the 24-team FIFA Women's World Cup taking place in Canada from 6 June to 5 July. Eight European teams are dreaming of capturing the world title: England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. On the European club front, the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark in Berlin will be the setting for the 2015 UEFA Women's Champions League final on Thursday 14 May. Iceland stages the European women's U17 final round from 22 June to 4 July, and Israel hosts the women's U19 final tournament between 15 and 27 July. Turning to futsal, the UEFA Futsal Cup final tournament will be held in late April and staged by one of the four qualifiers.
UEFA has a list of key priorities that will continue to be at the forefront of its activities this year. The European body is encouraged to see that its financial fair play measures are continuing to have a positive impact as part of efforts to introduce more rationality and discipline in clubs' financial management, thereby curbing the excesses that have brought a number to the brink of collapse.
New measures are in force as part of the fight against match-fixing – including an Integrity App, an Integrity Reporting Platform and freephone number, and e-Learning opportunities. This is in line with other tools and initiatives, including the betting fraud detection system which monitors over 30,000 European matches each year, and cooperation between UEFA and key stakeholders such as the European Union's law enforcement agency Europol. "[Match-fixing] is not a fantasy; it is a reality, a sad and serious reality," says UEFA President Michel Platini. "At UEFA, we will never accept that football is tarnished by match-fixing. We will protect our competitions, sport, players and officials."
'Respect' remains the key word in the campaign against discrimination and intolerance in football, and the former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf is now on board as a UEFA diversity ambassador and high-profile figure to help spread the message. "I have always wanted a big personality as an ambassador for the fight against discrimination and racism, and Clarence also expressed his own ideas in this area," said Mr Platini. "UEFA will be at his service, to find solutions in terms of how we can fight racism in Europe." In addition, the drive against doping in football is as committed as ever, with detection techniques evolving and UEFA's education programme warning players of the dangers and risks.
Dedicated work is ongoing within UEFA and its member associations in a variety of other areas. After ten outstanding years, the HatTrick assistance programme will continue to help the associations move forward in sporting and infrastructure terms. Large associations will help their smaller counterparts make progress through invaluable exchange programmes such as KISS, the Technical Study Group Scheme, and within the UEFA women's football development programme. A drive has begun to bring more women into leadership positions, and the campaign will no doubt bear fruit shortly. UEFA's social responsibility work also reflects how football can act as a unifying force and source of fraternity.
Overall, 2015 will see UEFA remaining true to its values of safeguarding football's values and its soul, based on two essential priorities. "Priorities that are fully in line with the aims of UEFA's founding fathers," Michel Platini explains. "Developing football in Europe; and ensuring that football fully plays its role within our society."