Speaking at the 41st Ordinary UEFA Congress in Helsinki, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin emphasised football's power to unite and thrill, and said UEFA would show courage, conviction and passion in advancing the game while defending its core values in an ever-changing world.
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"Let us not be afraid" – the clarion call issued by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin as he leads UEFA and European football into a bright and optimistic future.
Addressing the 41st UEFA Congress in Helsinki on Wednesday, Mr Čeferin pledged that he and UEFA would show bravery and total commitment in adapting to football's ever-evolving world and carrying out UEFA's mission to nurture the game on this continent.
"That is our responsibility as leaders," he told representatives of UEFA's 55 member associations and prominent guests. "Let us have the courage of our convictions, our values and our passions.
"Football is beautiful. Let us dare to protect it together. Let us dare to fight for what we believe to be just."
The UEFA president stressed that the organisation must show no fear towards change or reforms, while respecting past decisions and traditions.
"Like on the pitch, our formula for success will be efficiency, simplicity and a touch of creativity. No empty promises; no empty words; no scandals. Let's act. With humility, respect and professionalism."
Mr Čeferin said the moment was right to begin shaping European football's future. "Together, we will develop a strategic vision for European football," he told the associations. "We will initiate discussions very soon, so that together we can start designing the football of tomorrow. It is your ideas, projects, hopes and aspirations, and those of your clubs, players and supporters that will be at the heart of this vision.
"It's not a question of looking at football as it is today and asking 'Why?' but of dreaming about how it could be and asking 'Why not?'"
UEFA's good governance reforms were a starting point of the process – "an overhaul of our foundations," as the UEFA President put it.
"We realise that these measures are far removed from the concerns of pure football fans," he said. "[But] these changes are essential if we are to rebuild our image, restore our credibility and strengthen our legitimacy."
Turning to UEFA's relations with football's various stakeholders, Mr Čeferin said Europe's leagues, clubs and players should never be considered as enemies. "[They are] partners that we must respect," he reflected.
While ruling out the possibility of a closed European league – "That is not in line with our values and ideals. Quite simply, money does not rule" – Mr Čeferin pledged constant dialogue with Europe's clubs and leagues to find common solutions to mutual issues.
The UEFA President said that the continued development of financial fair play measures would remain a key element of UEFA's mission to stabilise European club football's finances. "Financial fair play has been remarkably efficient in reducing club debt considerably," he explained, adding that it should not be seen simply as a means of austerity.
"It must be a support mechanism, encouraging greater justice and stability but also greater investment." Planned new measures, he said, would continue along that path, while at the same time helping to revive the European football economy.
In addition to financial fair play, Mr Čeferin emphasised that UEFA would remain at the vanguard of the movement to fight "all the evils that threaten our sport: violence, doping, corruption, match-fixing, and ethical and disciplinary problems" – adding that UEFA had reinforced its structures accordingly with a new Protecting the Game division within its administration in Nyon.
Special focus would be concentrated on what the UEFA President described as "social fair play – everything we can do to bring about a football that is fairer and more ethical." This included, among others, protecting children and incorporating respect for human rights and workers' rights into bidding requirements for UEFA competitions.
"Being a social fair play organisation also means being an organisation that does not tolerate racism," he emphasised. "Or sexism. Or homophobia. Or discrimination against disabled people."
Mr Čeferin called for examples to be set in this respect. "We cannot stand up for diversity, gender equality and social inclusion by means of TV spots and good intentions if we ourselves tolerate words and behaviour from another age."
Announcing that UEFA would be allocating an additional €1m solidarity payment to each member association for the current cycle, as a result of excellent financial results in national team competitions such as UEFA EURO 2016, Mr Čeferin said that such funding would continue in the future.
"UEFA is not here to accumulate wealth," he explained, "while [associations] struggle to develop football in the furthest reaches of [their] territories. In an ever-more individualistic society, solidarity is a value that has to be engraved in UEFA's DNA."
Mr Čeferin stressed that football must remain a game of the people, and that UEFA would, among others, ensure that ticket costs in its competitions would be kept under control.
"We will defend football's values," he underlined, "against all the cynics, kill-joys and moralists, and against all those who are embittered, disappointed, disillusioned or disgusted."
The UEFA President said that football must unite rather than divide. "Let football give people reason to dream. Footballers are artists. They light up dark rooms in so many homes around the world. They inspire. They delight. They transcend."
"Quite simply, they bring out pure and intense emotions in us, in a troubled world, a complex and paradoxical world – a world that is more regulated and sanitised than ever, and at the same time ever more inclined towards populism and fear.
"With tens of millions of registered players and hundreds of millions of fans, we represent the biggest social movement in Europe. In an uncertain world, in societies beset with doubt, we have responsibilities.
"I will say it again: let us not be afraid. Together, let us always respect and defend those who bring football alive every day, everywhere: the supporters, the volunteers and the younger generation. Let us never forget that it is for them that we must pursue our projects for the future."