UEFA first vice-president Karl-Erik Nilsson and the president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Karl-Heinz Lambertz, meeting in Nyon, have emphasised football's social and economic role in the development of European regions.
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Football's contribution to European regional and local development, and investment in sport in the European Union were focal points of a meeting in Nyon between UEFA first vice-president Karl-Erik Nilsson and the president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Karl-Heinz Lambertz.
The talks, part of UEFA's ongoing dialogue with European institutions, further reinforced the strong relationship between the two bodies, following UEFA's signing earlier this year of the #Cohesion Alliance declaration, an initiative launched by the CoR and the major associations of regions and cities, which has the objective of achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion throughout Europe.
The European Committee of the Regions is an advisory body consisting of locally and regionally elected representatives from, among others, regions, counties, provinces, municipalities and cities. The CoR supports moves to strengthen European Union cohesion policies across the 28 EU member states.
"Football has a role to play in this process, because it is a powerful element within people's existence," said Mr Lambertz. "Football clubs play an important part in the social life of citizens in EU states. Football is a common language among Europeans, and it unites young and old in a common passion.
"Sport in general, and football in particular, has an enormous mobilising force," he added, "and should be put at the service of a common objective in helping to improve the well-being of our populations."
The CoR president emphasised that there were similarities in the two bodies' work and visions that may not seem evident at first view. "What we actually have in common," he said, "is that we are both working for something which is close to people and their daily lives."
Mr Lambertz welcomed UEFA's support for strong European cohesion policies which, in particular, can promote social inclusion through sport.
"Cohesion is a symbolic word for the EU," he explained, "and we have understood that sport and football are very strong instruments in promoting and nurturing cohesion.
"Consequently, we're extremely happy that UEFA signed our #Cohesion Alliance declaration."
The CoR president praised UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme which gives significant infrastructure and sporting assistance to Europe's national associations.
"We mustn't forget," Mr Lambertz said, "that sport can have a significant economic impact, creating financial resources which can be used to foster development.
"UEFA's HatTrick programme, which is funded by revenue from the European Football Championship, is an extraordinary example of an intelligent way of using such resources for development purposes."
Karl-Erik Nilsson, who chairs UEFA's HatTrick Committee, said that the continued economic development of European regions was key for the growth of Europe.
"Football can play a crucial role in this process," he said, "and strengthening the dialogue with the European Committee of the Regions is an important first step towards this goal.
"A strong cohesion policy reduces regional disparities, creates jobs and opens new business opportunities. The EU budget after 2020, in addition to maintaining a strong cohesion policy, should support investments in sport, as an engine of development and social integration."
Mr Nilsson expressed the view that the lack of sporting infrastructures is a serious problem that afflicts Europe, especially in disadvantaged areas.
"Investing in sport, with a focus on the grassroots, in addition to providing great benefits for the community, would lead to the economic growth of European regions," said the UEFA first vice-president.