Mathieu Sprengers points to the "giant strides" made since UEFA's Club Licensing system was introduced.
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The chairman of UEFA's Club Licensing Committee, Mathieu Sprengers, has expressed satisfaction at the "giant strides" made by clubs and national associations since the introduction of the licensing system.
The club licensing project, which was first implemented in 2003, aims to raise long-term standards by setting goals for sporting infrastructure, personnel, administration, legal and financial aspects which must be fulfilled in order for a club to be admitted to any UEFA competition. The concrete actions taken and achievements so far prove that football can govern itself.
Given the great diversity in cultural, social, financial and legal frameworks of the different countries in Europe, the task of ensuring that standards are met by the clubs from 53 national associations is both vast and complex, yet Sprengers is delighted with the progress that has been made. "Four years ago, the differences between the associations were remarkable," the Dutchman said. "There were associations that were already being run very professionally and there were others that had only existed for a couple of years and lacked experience. But every association has taken licensing very seriously and everybody has been amazed at how efficiently the system is working."
Co-operation and solidarity
Sprengers is particularly pleased by the manner in which the national associations have been assisting each other, sharing best practice and identifying solutions to common issues, with many of the larger associations offering practical advice to their more inexperienced counterparts. "For 50 per cent of the national associations, this licensing system was something completely new," he explained. "They had to recruit new staff to specialise in finance and administration, and adapt their organisation. But they have helped each other, they have shown co-operation and solidarity. As a result of this united effort, minimum standards have been raised throughout Europe."
Significant step forward
UEFA's club licensing system represents a significant step forward in improving transparency and governance of clubs, helping to preserve the integrity of competitions and ensuring that everyone is subjected fairly to the same rules, both on and off the field. "The idea is to make sure that UEFA's club competitions are fair, real competitions, meaning that the clubs should play under the same conditions," Sprengers said. "If one club does not fulfil the minimum criteria regarding the safety of its stadium, then the club that has fulfilled its criteria will not be satisfied. Likewise, if you play a club that has enormous debts because it has not paid for the team that is on the pitch, you will feel they have an unfair advantage."
The project has already attracted positive press in Europe, as well as receiving increasing recognition within European political institutions. "It's been helpful in establishing good co-operation with governments and with the European authorities, who recognise the importance of safeguarding the integrity of football, and are very satisfied with the development of this system," Sprengers said.
Ironing out weaknesses
Nevertheless, Sprengers is refusing to rest on his laurels, saying: "It's not the end. We have to keep on progressing, which is why we have decided to re-evaluate the system. It's important to keep ironing out any weaknesses or non-practical issues and that's what we'll continue to do."
Click here for the brochure Here to Stay – Club Licensing, a report on UEFA's club licensing scheme over the past four years.