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UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin: 'Purpose over profit. That is the key'

In his speech to the 44th Ordinary UEFA Congress in Amsterdam, Mr Čeferin warns that the European football community must act to prevent the over-commercialisation of the game.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin ©UEFA.com

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin hailed European football as "the greatest success story of modern-day sport" on Tuesday, but warned the wider European football family to put "purpose before profit".

Addressing the 44th UEFA Ordinary Congress in Amsterdam, Mr Čeferin pledged that UEFA would continue to foster the constant progress of European football through proper and efficient use of all its resources.

"Should our success be measured only in terms of our commercial achievements, or should it be able to take bold decisions that are not always guided by financial interests?" asked the president. "Purpose over profit. That is the key."

Successes and achievements

UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin pledged to foster the constant progress of European football
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin pledged to foster the constant progress of European football©UEFA.com

At the annual gathering of representatives from all of UEFA's 55 member associations, Mr Čeferin underlined the achievements of European football's governing body and the wider European game:

  • 2016–20: UEFA has generated more than €15 billion in revenue
  • 2018/19 season: 38% increase in revenue
  • The UEFA Foundation for Children's doubling of budget is benefitting almost one million disadvantaged children around the world
  • Redistribution of funds: 87% of UEFA income redistributed throughout European football
  • Europe's growing football family: around 20 million registered players, more than 160,000 qualified referees, 144,000 amateur clubs and 1,900 professional clubs
  • UEFA Champions League final: world's most watched annual club football event
  • Beyond Europe: 13 billion cumulative global audience for all UEFA-organised matches over a three-year cycle
  • Digital engagement for UEFA competitions: more than 18 billion social media interactions last season

Protect, promote, develop

"Should we be ashamed of our successes?" asked the UEFA president. "It all depends what we do with that success.

"Our primary objective is to protect, promote and develop football across Europe. I would go as far as to say power is worthless unless it incorporates the notion of purpose over profit."

Defending the European sports model

Mr Čeferin insisted that the European sports model, based on promotion, relegation and solidarity, should be defended with "strength, conviction and legitimacy".

"If our success enables us to ward off threats that appear on the horizon, we can be proud," he said. "These threats are alarming. And we need to anticipate the worst if we are to prevent it.

"The football pyramid is delicate, and must not be knocked off balance. Certain projects, some devised on other continents with the backing of governing bodies, are particularly worrying."

'Not simply a business'

"Football is not simply a business like any other," the UEFA president continued. “It has a history, tradition and structure that must be respected. Our principles, history, tradition and structure are the reason for our current success.

"[They] have enabled football to dominate other sports and enabled European football to dominate the rest of the world. Calling them into question would be a death sentence for our sport."

'Sacrosanct principles'

The UEFA President chaired proceedings at the Congress
The UEFA President chaired proceedings at the Congress©UEFA.com

"There are certain principles that are sacrosanct," Mr Čeferin added. "The right for confederations to organise continental competitions is an inalienable right. The principles of solidarity, of promotion, relegation and open leagues are also non-negotiable.

"If our success enables us to prevent the over-commercialisation of our sport (…), enables us to develop football across the continent [and] promote social cohesion and show future generations that football must be synonymous with openness, tolerance and diversity, we can be proud.

"We are the guardians of a legacy. We are guardians, here to protect the game, its players and its history. If we succeed, that will be our greatest achievement."

Nurturing football, its accessibility and social power

Mr Čeferin said it was imperative to nurture football across the continent – "as we do with the 87% of our income redistributed throughout European football" – and "give girls and boys from all walks of life, from all ethnic, social and religious backgrounds, the chance to play football in the best possible conditions".

UEFA's successes, he continued, had also led to the doubling of the UEFA Foundation for Children's budget with benefits for almost one million disadvantaged children through projects implemented around the world.

The president also highlighted UEFA funding of solidarity programmes for disadvantaged national football associations outside of Europe, as well as the organisation's frontline role in delivering "uncompromising messages to a world that is too often male-dominated and conservative".

Women's football – a great opportunity

UEFA successes, the president added, were also providing the opportunity to invest in women's football with UEFA Women's EURO 2021 in England offering a "wonderful opportunity".

"We must make this competition a benchmark, a watershed moment in football's development. To inspire the millions of girls who dream of becoming tomorrow's top players, referees or coaches," he said.

Stamping out racism in stadiums

Turning to the challenge of racist conduct in football stadiums, Mr Čeferin underlined that considerable work lay ahead.

"Many of us have been sickened by what we have witnessed in a number of European stadiums this season," he said. "That is not football. Football is, above all, a celebration of life, community and unity. It's an exchange. It's about sharing.

"The problem is not on the pitch, where diversity is greater than in any other sport and probably any other part of society. The problem is in our societies, in the stands. Things need to change."

The UEFA president called for full use to be made of the three-step procedure which empowered referees to stop, suspend or ultimately abandon a match in the event of persistent racist behaviour.

"In the last three seasons, the UEFA disciplinary bodies have imposed 73 partial stadium closures and ordered 39 matches to be played behind closed doors following incidents of discrimination," Mr Čeferin explained.

"That shows that we are doing what is currently in our power to do, but it also shows what a serious problem it is, and that we need to do more."

UEFA EURO 2020 – uniting a continent

The UEFA president ended his address by joining millions of football fans in looking forward to UEFA EURO 2020, which will be staged in 12 host cities across Europe this summer to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UEFA European Championship.

"The European ideal will be there for all to see," he said, "A continent united. A tournament of 51 matches, during which people from every country will support their teams and celebrate their heroes' exploits.

"Twelve countries, 12 cities, 12 stadiums, 24 teams, millions of supporters, hundreds of millions of television viewers. And one European destiny."

'A dream shared'

"It will be beautiful, big; the football we love; a dream shared by all the players and all their supporters," Mr Čeferin concluded. "A simple dream, a perfect dream, a childhood dream, to lift a 60-year-old trophy.

"Purpose over profit. It’s as simple as that."