President Michel Platini told the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana that UEFA will be reinforcing its social role and working even harder to foster European football's development.
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UEFA President Michel Platini has pledged that UEFA will "go back to basics", refocus on its social purpose and role and strive to foster football's further development as the governing body moves towards an exciting future.
In his address to the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan, Mr Platini unveiled several measures, including the launch of a new programme to set up and develop football academies for promising young players, and the creation of a UEFA children's foundation. In addition, the UEFA President emphasised UEFA's opposition to third-party ownership of players.
Mr Platini recalled that UEFA is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. "What exactly did our founding fathers have in mind when they established this institution of ours?" asked the UEFA President. "They had two major objectives: to develop football across the continent, and to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from its role in society.
"Today, the time has come to refocus on those two fundamental objectives. We need to return to our roots – to go back to basics. We need to refocus on our core tasks, on our social purpose and our raison d'être."
Mr Platini explained that UEFA had launched numerous projects in recent years to further football's development – these included development tournaments for boys and girls, increasing final-round fields in UEFA competitions, new concepts such as the "EURO for Europe" in 2020, technical exchange programmes and the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson as UEFA coaching ambassador in January.
"That is why we are launching, in those countries that are keen, a brand new programme to establish and develop football academies for promising young players," he continued. "This training centre development programme is aimed at discovering talented young players throughout Europe, training them, following their progress and helping them to advance, in order to produce not only great players of the future, but also decent and responsible citizens.
"This is a programme established by and for footballers. This is a major innovation, and a dedicated unit has been created within UEFA in order to implement this project. It is you, the national associations, who will reap the rewards of this programme, if you want to be part of the adventure. The Ronaldo of tomorrow may be living in Moldova or Latvia – who knows? This elite football programme will help you to find him."
Mr Platini spoke of the right of children to discover football's joy, saying: "They have the right to play the game in the best environment possible, and we have a duty to help them. That is why we will be extending our partnerships with your governments with a view, under your guidance, to making football the number one sport in all of your countries' schools."
With constantly nurturing the progress of European football in mind, Mr Platini said that funding would be increased for the innovative UEFA HatTrick assistance programme which is helping national associations improve in sporting and infrastructure terms. "Ten years after the programme was first launched, I am delighted to announce that HatTrick IV will have a larger overall budget than any of its predecessors," he said of the programme's next cycle.
Turning to the creation of a UEFA children's foundation, Mr Platini said the move came out of a desire by UEFA to help as many people as possible to benefit from football's role in society. "The UEFA Executive Committee approved the principle of creating this foundation the day before yesterday," he reflected. "We will now embark on the implementation of this project, with all the enthusiasm and fervour of people who know that what they are doing is right.
"This foundation will finance programmes helping children in need throughout Europe and around the world. A mechanism will be put in place whereby each national association is able to establish one children's project in its own country which is fully or partly financed by that foundation. More than ever before, football has a social role to play, and what could be better than ensuring our young people benefit?
"This foundation will help us – help you – to preserve the magic of football and give hope to those children who need it most. This is a great project, a truly great project, and a cause that is particularly close to my heart."
On the topic of third-party ownership of players, the UEFA President was unequivocal about "a problem which particularly worries me. I have been constantly warning for years that this practice – which is becoming increasingly widespread – is a danger to our sport. It threatens the integrity of our competitions, damages football's image, poses a long-term threat to clubs' finances and even raises questions about human dignity.
"When I was a player, I went on strike because players belonged to their clubs and therefore failed to enjoy real freedom," Mr Platini said. "Today players are certainly not the property of their clubs, but something worse is happening instead. Increasingly, players are owned by opaque companies based in tax havens and controlled by some unknown agent or investment fund.
"Quite simply, some players are no longer in control of their own sporting careers and are transferred each year to generate revenue for anonymous individuals who just want to get their hands on some of the money in football; we will address this issue in our own competitions in Europe. The UEFA Executive Committee has already adopted a position on this issue in principle, and we will see this through."
Mr Platini expressed the view that, although UEFA may have reached the age of 60, the body was more active than ever. "These projects stem from two fundamental priorities – priorities that are fully in line with the aims of UEFA's founding fathers: developing football in Europe; and ensuring that football fully plays its role within our society." For example, the new UEFA Women in Leadership programme, he said, looked to establish "real equal opportunity initiatives. Equality of opportunity is a value that is inherent in football." Respecting diversity, helping ethnic minorities and giving all supporters the right to indulge their passion in football are all key components of UEFA's social vision.
"We are being remarkably successful in meeting those objectives, and that is all thanks to you – our friends at the national associations," the UEFA President concluded. "UEFA remains an association of associations, with you calling the shots, and we will continue to work together to shape the future of football."