"We have succeeded in making UEFA a unique model, an example to other sports organisations, a point of reference," UEFA President Michel Platini told the XXXIX Ordinary UEFA Congress.
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UEFA President Michel Platini has urged Europe's national associations and other partners to join UEFA in continuing what he described as the "fantastic journey" that sees European football constantly evolving, while striving to maintain the traditions and values that mark this most popular of sports.
In his address to delegates and guests at the XXXIX Ordinary UEFA Congress in Vienna on Tuesday, Mr Platini said that UEFA, its 54 member associations and other stakeholders within the football family had shown that "it is indeed possible to combine romanticism and realism, ideals and action".
"While remaining true to ourselves, our ideas and our convictions," the UEFA President reflected, "we have succeeded in making UEFA a unique model, an example to other sports organisations, a point of reference."
Mr Platini began his address by recalling that UEFA held its inaugural Congress in Vienna on 2 March 1955. "Sixty years after that founding Vienna Congress," he said, "European football is still 11 against 11, and it still arouses just as much passion."
He added that, since his election as UEFA President in January 2007, various challenges within European football had needed to be overcome. For eight years, Mr Platini underlined, every effort had been made to remain faithful to the philosophy of UEFA's pioneers, while at the same time permanently pursuing reinvention to keep moving forwards.
"We have developed a kind of participatory democracy," he told the associations. "The initiatives that UEFA has launched in recent years, the projects it has developed and the decisions it has taken are your initiatives, your projects and your decisions.
"We have, together, taken some big decisions for European football and the national associations of Europe. Most of these projects are the result of our joint discussions or discussions between yourselves in which we were privileged to be involved. I am of course thinking, among others, of the 24-team EURO, which will be an exceptional festival of football and is already producing the most exciting, nail-biting qualifying competition yet.
"I am also thinking of UEFA EURO 2020, which will span the entire continent and allow 13 countries to host one of the biggest events in the world. And how can I not mention the new financial distribution models that have enabled us to increase considerably the solidarity and development payments made to each of our member associations within the space of just two HatTrick cycles?
"These achievements, I repeat, are not mine. They are yours," Mr Platini continued. "They belong to the UEFA Executive Committee, whom I thank most warmly again today, and to UEFA's 54 member associations. Together, we have shown that it is indeed possible to combine romanticism and realism, ideals and action."
The UEFA President expressed his pride at being the captain of a winning team – "One that wins because it boasts 54 talented presidents and general secretaries who are prepared to play for each other, who work hard and put others before themselves, and who share both a love of football and a sense of responsibility.
"As far as the next four years are concerned, I propose that we remain on the same path, continuing together the fantastic journey that we have been on for the last eight years."
Mr Platini said that a number of challenges still lay ahead. These included fighting political interference in associations' affairs and reinforcing efforts to stamp out match-fixing, doping, violence, racism and other forms of discrimination. "Even if we sometimes have the bitter feeling that these battles are matches we cannot win," he emphasised, "we have to keep playing until the end. We have to play as if it was a cup final – as if it was the most important game of our lives."
The UEFA President highlighted two areas of particular concern. Firstly, a rise in nationalism and extremism in Europe, which was also being reflected within football, and secondly, that UEFA and football were being left alone in certain battles. "And yet," he stressed, "these are battles that can only be won with the help of the public authorities. I therefore renew my call for greater awareness of this issue among public authorities, so that we can avoid reliving the dark days of a not-so-distant past – a past where hooligans and all manner of fanatics called the shots in certain European stadiums.
"We need tougher stadium bans at European level and – I will say it again – the creation of a European sports police force."
Mr Platini described football as a "fantastic, welcoming sport that fosters integration and embraces diversity, a 'school of life' that teaches the importance of sharing, tolerance and equal opportunities.
"One of our challenges," he added, "is to ensure that football continues to play that key role as a creator of social ties. Every village in Europe needs to be in the best possible position to cater for children who want to do just one thing, the most beautiful of things: to play football."
The UEFA President focused on other future challenges, including social dialogue. "It is essential that the contracts of all of Europe's professional players are respected and the commitments made are honoured. The establishment of minimum conditions to protect players is a matter of principle.
"Stakeholders must never be regarded as the enemy. As I have just said, they are our partners. And I believe the time has come to grant all or at least some of them the status that they deserve. I am now convinced that we have reached a time of maturity, wisdom, mutual trust and common sense. In other words, it is time to invite some or all of those branches of the family to join us at the top table – the balance in terms of representation being yet to be decided."
Mr Platini closed by expressing the belief that institutions such as UEFA have an "obligation to devote themselves to ambitious social responsibility projects, to civic and solidarity initiatives". He added: "That is why we have established the UEFA Foundation for Children.
"The foundation will now be able to put in place its first initiatives in support of children very soon. This foundation belongs to you and the children of your respective countries. Those children, in turn, are the future of European football and Europe as a whole."