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'Football must take centre stage'

Executive Committee member Michael van Praag has stressed UEFA's commitment to tackling key safety and security challenges at the UEFA-EU Stadium and Security Conference in Warsaw.

UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag addresses the Warsaw security conference
UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag addresses the Warsaw security conference ©UEFA

UEFA and the football family are committed to meeting various testing challenges in the area of safety and security around matches – but the governing body has reiterated its view that that governments, public authorities and police must also contribute fully in helping to ensure that UEFA's matches are held in a safe atmosphere.

In a keynote speech to stakeholders at the latest UEFA-EU Stadium and Security Conference in Warsaw on Thursday, UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag stressed UEFA's fierce determination to confront every challenge and guarantee that the game of football continues to take centre stage.

"We never stand still in football, and with the passing of another year since our last meeting we find ourselves in a rapidly changing environment," Van Praag told an audience including European police and governmental agency representatives, club security officers from UEFA, national associations and clubs, and stadium owners, gathered in Warsaw to discuss contemporary security issues and seek lasting solutions and progress. "At the present time, European football is facing many challenges. These challenges are more diverse in nature than at any time in the relatively short history of UEFA competitions.

"The range of challenges to be met varies from international conflict between nations all the way down to conflict between rival supporters groups," he added. "The recent conflict in Israel and the current situation in Ukraine have caused serious issues for the scheduling of matches in UEFA competitions. As if this was not enough, we are increasingly experiencing football being used as a platform for diverse political protests and as a medium for those wishing to express extreme racist views.

"Against this backdrop, we must meet these challenges head on and ensure that it is football that takes centre stage. However difficult the circumstances, the game must go on."

Van Praag reflected that Europe is experiencing a period of political turbulence, and that football could not escape the resultant impact. "[At last year's conference] we emphasised the fact that despite the strength of the collective collaboration of the 54 national associations in UEFA, we cannot exist or operate in isolation," he said. "To succeed, we require the support of governments, public authorities and police, as well as our national associations and clubs, to ensure that our competitions can take place in a safe, secure and welcoming environment.

"UEFA believes governments should also have a lead role in ensuring that football takes place in an appropriate environment. This requires political commitment at the highest level to the creation of an effective national framework, within which there must be an integrated approach to the key issues of safety, security and service.

"In the current political and economic climate, where threats to football can come from such diverse sources, there is an imperative to develop multi-agency partnerships. This ethic applies equally to the development and sharing of solutions to more practical problems we face every day in our matches."

Van Praag outlined a year-on-year increase in incidents of disorder occurring inside and outside stadiums and in cities where matches are being hosted. "Despite the awareness of this and despite, in general terms, knowing who is responsible, individual countries have struggled in developing effective exclusion strategies which include a system of exit bans to prevent known-risk supporters from travelling to matches abroad," he told the conference.

"Whilst those posing a risk to public order are allowed to travel freely to matches in other countries, we will struggle to put the positive face of football at centre stage," he said. "Development of an effective exclusion strategy should be a key component part of the strategic national framework model which I am promoting to you. Where good practice exists, it is crucial that this is highlighted and shared internationally, so all of us can work towards effective pan-European solutions."

Positive news is forthcoming in the area of international cooperation and joint-working between UEFA and partners at European institutional level. "Perhaps the most significant development is the work currently being undertaken to revise the 1985 Convention on Spectator Violence in Sport," Van Praag explained. "UEFA has fully supported the work of the T-RV standing committee on spectator violence during the drafting stage of this revision, and it is hoped that there will be agreement by ministers on the draft new convention by May 2015.

"Once adopted, it is hoped that the new convention can be the foundation for the promotion of best practice required to address the problems which we are facing today and in the future. We look forward to the adoption of this important work."