The UEFA Europa League can build on its highly successful first three years during the 2012–15 cycle – but must also be a model of right conduct, says UEFA's General Secretary.
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UEFA's General Secretary Gianno Infantino hailed the "enormous impact" made by the UEFA Europa League during its first three seasons since taking over from the UEFA Cup – and expressed confidence that the competition's impressive development would continue over the next three years.
Speaking at today's UEFA Europa League play-off draw in Nyon, Mr Infantino backed the competition to maintain its forward momentum during the 2012–15 cycle.
Before the 62 teams were drawn into 31 ties – the winners of which would join 17 automatic qualifiers in the UEFA Europa League group stage – the General Secretary told the assembled club representatives: "This season is a special one because it heralds the start of a new three-year cycle. During its first three years, the UEFA Europa League has made an enormous impact and has become firmly established as a competition which is popular with clubs and supporters alike. We now go into the next cycle with the extra impetus of a new presenting sponsor, a new sponsor and a new official supplier."
For all the promise of further progress for the competition, however, Mr Infantino added that it was imperative that top-class European football should be underpinned by correct conduct and integrity.
"Unfortunately, football is also seriously endangered by severe threats like racism, violence, corruption and match-fixing – we are never safe," he said, before reiterating the clubs' role in protecting the sport's true values. "All those who are involved and have responsibilities in football – we the governing bodies but also you the clubs – have a compelling duty to be more than vigilant and proactive in tackling such threats as they can kill the soul of our sport and break the love affair football enjoys with millions of fans.
"That's why UEFA will keep on having no tolerance for any type of wrongdoing, with preventive action and sanctions when and where needed. We know we can count on your full support and active cooperation."
The General Secretary concluded by wishing the contestants luck for the "high-stakes" play-off ties on 23 and 30 August. "Forty-eight teams will compete in this season's group stage ... I am sure your clubs will spare no efforts when it comes to negotiating this last hurdle and obtaining a place in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League."