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Learning lessons from a year like no other

Writing in UEFA Direct, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin highlights the lessons learned by UEFA and European football during an extraordinary 12 months – and emphasises that teamwork, unity and solidarity can help the football community overcome any obstacle.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin UEFA

Few events underline the rich diversity in culture across our continent than the way that nations welcome in the new year – from waltzing in Austria, or throwing out old clothes in Italy, to switching on taps in Turkey so that good luck can flow in. However, there is one tradition at the end of every year that unites almost every country in Europe and beyond: taking stock of the previous 12 months with a view to embarking on the future.

Football is no exception, not least after this tumultuous and extraordinary year. There are many lessons to draw from the way that governing bodies, national associations, leagues, clubs, players and fans have pulled together amid the coronavirus pandemic to adapt to unprecedented change. Three lessons stand out:

UEFA has a tried and tested formula in place for safely staging its competitions, with more than 1,000 club and national team matches completed since our return to play in August.

The Return to Play protocol, published in July, has established robust medical and operational standards for all UEFA competitions. No stone has been left unturned in our efforts to protect everyone involved in our matches, both on and off the field.

Football’s popularity and reach bring an added social responsibility. In times of need, it has the power to support and strengthen communities.

National associations, leagues, clubs and players launched countless initiatives to help their local communities cope with national lockdowns. These included raising funds to purchase medical equipment, delivering food to elderly and vulnerable people, producing training videos about staying fit at home, and using football’s enormous reach to deliver vital health messages.

In the past nine months, we have overcome a series of significant obstacles, any one of which would have seemed insurmountable in more normal times – rewriting the entire UEFA 2020/21 match calendar, reformatting and finishing four competitions in four weeks in August, piloting the safe return of a limited number of fans for the UEFA Super Cup match in Budapest, and postponing EURO 2020 by 12 months – a move which, among other things, also enabled 2019/20 domestic competition seasons across Europe to be brought to a conclusion when football returned in the summer.

In 2020, we have learned that by working together in a spirit of compromise and understanding, acting as a team and striving for the same objectives, the European football community can surmount any obstacle. It is a lesson that will serve us well in the future.