UEFA President Lennart Johansson has pledged to continue the fight against racism and corruption in his opening address to the XXXI Ordinary Congress.
UEFA President Lennart Johansson pledged to continue the fight against racism and corruption as he delivered his opening address to the XXXI Ordinary Congress in Dusseldorf on Thursday.
In a speech focused on football's role in society, Mr Johansson described the sport as a "great leveller" and a vehicle for integration, citing the contribution of "great players from immigrant families" like Raymond Kopa and Zinédine Zidane. However, he warned against complacency in the fight against football's ills. "Football is a great leveller for people coming from different ethnic, linguistic or religious backgrounds," the UEFA President said. "On a football pitch, everyone is equal. But just as football is made up of all types of people from society, so it acts as a mirror for society and its problems.
"And so it is that we continue to see incidents of racism, either on or off the pitch, or corruption where the greed of individuals threatens the credibility of our sport. In these cases, we must be strong and determined. These types of behaviour will not be accepted, or acceptable within our game. We must work together, and be resolute and unwavering in punishing the offenders and preventing this unsociable behaviour. We must use the game to send out a strong and clear message that football is there for the good of people and society, and not as refuge for its ills."
World Cup example
Mr Johansson also reflected on the example set by last summer's FIFA World Cup here in Germany, praising the "wonderful hospitality of the German people" and congratulating the German Football Association on its 'A time to make friends' initiative. He said: "What happened last year also illustrates the power of our game way beyond its contribution to society purely as a sport, and we must be proud of this aspect in all our daily dealings with those who would have us believe that it is actually merely a business."
Continuing the theme of football as a force for good, Mr Johansson cited the work of UEFA and its member associations in creating mini-pitches across the continent, describing it as a factor in the struggle against rising levels of obesity among the young. "As today's youngsters face increasing pressures in their daily life, football encourages a healthy dose of exercise that can help in the fight against obesity, a problem that is looming up fast in today's 'fast food generation'. UEFA's efforts, together with you, the national associations, in promoting mini-pitches across the continent is a clear help in this struggle, and we must continue to promote this important work."
Mr Johansson had begun his address by paying homage to "some of football's loyal servants who have passed away" during the 12 months since the last congress, inviting a minute's silence in memory of Claus Rode Jensen, Lucien Schmidlin, Giacinto Facchetti, Léon Walker, Ferenc Puskás and Efstratios Papaefstratiou.
Speaking to the Congress prior to Mr Johansson's address, FIFA President Joseph S Blatter described Europe as a "paradise for players", but also as the most demanding football continent in political terms, because "authorities try to interfere in circumstances which are not helpful for our sport". Pleading for the autonomy of football and sport, Mr Blatter added: "They must take into account the interests of sport and promote sport. Sport cannot be a platform for political representation, it is not left or right. Sport's decisions should be left to sport."
In his address, Germany's Minister of the Interior, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, said football acted as a uniting factor, bringing people together against racism and helping to educate people to accept fair play and sportsmanship. Germany, he said, would never forget the atmosphere at last year's World Cup – an event which had changed the country and showed the game's power as a unifying force. The German Football Association (DFB) President, Dr Theo Zwanziger, echoed these themes, saying the World Cup experience had made a significant contribution to giving people a new, modern image of Germany and its people.