"We have the power to shape the football of the future," UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin told the 42nd Ordinary UEFA Congress in Bratislava as he emphasised the body's determination to "make European football as big as it can be".
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UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin says that UEFA must be brave, daring and creative "agents of change" in safeguarding football's values and taking the European game forward in the years to come.
In his address to the 42nd Ordinary UEFA Congress in Bratislava on Monday, Mr Čeferin pledged that UEFA would continue to show courage, transparency and leadership in fulfilling its role to protect, promote and develop the game on this continent.
"Let us dare to aim high, launch initiatives that continue to instil hope, and make European football as big as it can be," he said.
The UEFA President said that in an ever-changing world, modern-day football was facing competition from other sports and activities that captured the imagination of the next generation – and UEFA would have to "dare to adapt" in planning its future course.
"Many people consider UEFA to be a model among sports organisations in Europe," he said. "We lead the way. That's not a reason to rest on our laurels. Instead we must aim higher still."
Mr Čeferin presented UEFA's various positive results in recent times. Good governance reforms had given the body essential stability; key European football stakeholders such as clubs and leagues were being given enhanced roles in the decision-making process; and dialogue with the European political authorities remained fruitful and healthy.
"We have not been afraid to open the door to our partners," he said. "We have understood that isolationist policies are symptoms of weakness and failure, and that it is through openness, sharing and dialogue that we will, all together, rise to the challenges of tomorrow."
Financial fair play – which has brought much-needed stability to clubs' financial management – would continue to be enhanced in the future. UEFA, Mr Čeferin noted, has also entered a new era as a "social fair play" body through initiatives such as the #EqualGame campaign promoting diversity, inclusion and accessibility in football.
"The only difference between players on a football pitch is the colour of their shirt," he emphasised. "We make no other distinction, whether of origin, religion, sex or sexual orientation. Football is for everyone, everywhere."
UEFA, Mr Čeferin went on, had not been afraid to take risks in its activities and decisions. "Calculated risks that have paid off – and enable us to look to the future with quiet confidence."
Given UEFA's mission being to redistribute its revenue for the overall benefit of European football, the UEFA President pledged that such funding would continue to be substantial.
"We must dare to redistribute," he said. "More. And in new ways. UEFA is not a bank. We are an association of associations whose primary purpose is to promote the development of football in Europe."
Establishing greater competitive balance in European football, Mr Čeferin explained, would remain a major priority. "Thanks to the UEFA Nations League, we appear to be on the right track with national team football. But the club game still requires our serious attention.
"I cannot promise you the moon. I am not a merchant of dreams, or a politician.
"I will fight tooth and nail to introduce measures that restore some balance, but I cannot claim that these will result in a club such as Steaua Bucarest or Red Star Belgrade being the next to have their name engraved on the Champions League trophy. It is my responsibility to be realistic.
"Our competition formats are what make our club competitions the success that they are today. Our efforts should focus more on their financial solidarity mechanisms."
Mr Čeferin called on the national associations and other stakeholders to be creative and "dare to think ahead, dare to think differently" in planning UEFA's future strategies.
"We are in a uniquely privileged position," he stressed. "We have the power to shape the football of the future. Millions of fans all over the world would give anything to be in that position. We must not take it lightly. And we must not disappoint. We are agents of change."
The UEFA President recalled words spoken by the late Finnish FA president Pertti Alaja at last April's Congress in Helsinki. "Football is a human game, it removes barriers, unites people and is an endless story of joy.
"In a world that seems to want to put up walls," he continued, "we must defend our beautiful game – football as we know and love it.
"Football that transcends differences, gives young and old reasons to dream, and gives hope to so many around the world. UEFA must remain a model of openness. We must show courage. And cooperation."