Facing challenges and embracing change - Aleksander Čeferin

In a keynote speech during his visit to Portugal, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin has presented a series of visions and ideas aimed at taking UEFA and European football into a positive future.

Aleksander Čeferin at the Football Talks Congress in Portugal
Aleksander Čeferin at the Football Talks Congress in Portugal ©FPF/Diogo Pinto

Embracing challenges and opportunities in an ever-changing world – ensuring European football’s future well-being and competitive balance – boosting participation. These key visions were addressed by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin in a keynote speech during a two-day visit to Portugal.

Mr Čeferin attended the Football Talks Congress, organised by the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), and visited the association’s new Cidade do Futebol (City of Football) centre near Lisbon, opened last year with the help of UEFA funding.

In his speech to key European football stakeholders and experts at the Estoril Congress Centre on Wednesday, Mr Čeferin expressed the view that football was currently living through “a stage of fascinating change”.

“Firstly, the game has become global,” he said. “Secondly, new technologies are driving new ways of consumption.”

The result, Mr Čeferin underlined, was that fans had new means of sharing in the football experience. “Where watching football used to be a one-dimensional experience, we can now add multiple layers and dimensions that engage the fans and bring them into the game itself. We can actively participate as never before.”

“We should approach Silicon Valley and understand the strategies of the big technology innovation companies,” he added. “We cannot live in fear of them, or fail to understand them because we ourselves do not. They must be our ally, because they are already our children’s ally.”

“UEFA has the greatest football on earth - and why not allow everyone to maximise their experience and taste of it? We can bring our fans into the game.” 

Football experts and stakeholders from throughout Europe attended the congress in Estoril
Football experts and stakeholders from throughout Europe attended the congress in Estoril©FPF/Diogo Pinto

Another important task for UEFA in the coming period, Mr Čeferin said, was to examine issues such as competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions. 

“UEFA would like to secure that it has vibrant and balanced European club competitions enjoyed by all,” he explained, “but with minimal negative externalities on smaller clubs and domestic leagues.”

“We cannot allow the greatness of some to overshadow and drown out [others]. If we allow gaps to become too great, we will be neglecting those who have no opportunity.”

The UEFA President turned to the various threats to football’s stability and security. “Doping, match-fixing, violence and corruption – we all know that these scourges represent a danger for our football,” he said.

“There may not be a miracle solution to these problems, but we must work harder. That is why we have set up a brand new division called 'Protection of the Game', and the only task for people working in this division is to fight doping, match-fixing, violence and corruption.”

Mr Čeferin highlighted proposed UEFA good governance reforms to be voted upon by Europe’s national associations at next month’s UEFA Congress in Helsinki.

He noted that politicians involved in scandals and corruption had damaged the image of politics. “It can also happen to football,” he reflected. “If we, football leaders, don’t lead by example, then one day, fans will have had enough, and through aversion, they will turn away from football.”

“I am convinced that these good governance proposals will create a stronger and more transparent governing body for the good of European football.”

Mr Čeferin stressed UEFA’s duty to protect football at all levels. “Throughout its history, UEFA has been thought of as a guardian of the game with a strong emphasis on development, fairness and accessibility,” he said.

“UEFA also has a duty to all of football’s stakeholders. UEFA should work to help not only its member associations, but leagues, clubs, players and fans who are all members of the football community.”

“We want to be the ones who drive and innovate with technology and globalisation to bring football to everyone. We must encourage and incentivise investment in women’s and youth football. We have to break down barriers that prevent or hinder participation.”

Mr Čeferin called on the football community to confront dangers, and use challenges and opportunities to positive effect. “If we realise that threats are, in fact, challenges and that challenges are opportunities,” he said, “then European football has a bright future ahead.”

During his visit to Portugal’s Cidade do Futebol centre, Mr Čeferin said how impressed he was by the installations, opened in March 2016 and financed with the help of UEFA’s HatTrick assistance programme. He also congratulated Portugal on their achievement in winning UEFA EURO 2016 in France last summer.

“It was an amazing and unexpected success,” he commented. “I think it's very important for Portuguese football to have won a EURO.” 

Aleksander Čeferin was shown the Portuguese Football Federation's City of Football by FPF president Fernando Gomes
Aleksander Čeferin was shown the Portuguese Football Federation's City of Football by FPF president Fernando Gomes©FPF/Diogo Pinto