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Protecting the European sports model – our biggest achievement in 2021

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin reviews an eventful year for UEFA and European football – and emphasises that key values that lie at the very heart of the game must be preserved and protected for the future.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin UEFA

Looking back at an unforgettable year for UEFA and the European football community, it’s difficult to single out our biggest achievement.

The roll call of ‘winners’ is simply too long. Club and national team captains lifted UEFA trophies in no fewer than seven competitions – EURO 2020, the Nations League, the men’s and women’s Champions Leagues, the Europa League, the European Under-21 Championship finals and the Futsal Champions League.

The kick-off of new club competition cycles created a win-win situation for both women’s and men’s football. Far-reaching changes to the Women’s Champions League have significantly enhanced its competitive balance, exposure and prestige, while the launch of the Europa Conference League has made our men’s competitions more inclusive, with a number of clubs making their first ever appearance on the European stage.

Football even secured its own sporting victories over the pandemic, firstly, by staging so many matches across the year amid constantly shifting health regulations; secondly, by showing that fans could safely return to stadiums.

Over the past 12 months, every member of our community has made a telling contribution to these standout successes - national associations, players, domestic leagues, clubs, coaches, match officials, fans, our partners and the media.

However, our most significant achievement deserves more recognition – protecting the European sports model that guides the mission of UEFA, its member associations and countless other sporting organisations. Based on a pyramid structure that connects grassroots football at the bottom to elite clubs at the top, the model works on a double premise. Not only is revenue from professional competitions reinvested across the game; clubs are also promoted or relegated on sporting merit.

Few organisations embody the European sports model’s values more strongly than UEFA. Every four years, our European Championship channels a large proportion of revenue into football development projects across the continent through the HatTrick programme.

From 2020-24, €775.5 million in EURO 2020 revenue will benefit all levels of the footballing pyramid – from training male and female coaches to supporting grassroots clubs and nurturing talented young players who dream of competing in future EUROs. Similarly, the model’s commitment to open competition was a key driver in our creation of the Europa Conference League. All 55 national associations are now guaranteed representation in at least one UEFA competition each season.

Last April’s ill-fated attempt to launch a closed ‘super league’, which focused only on filling the bank accounts of a few clubs, threatened values that lie at the very heart of the European sports model and UEFA’s mission. Its demise, driven by political and popular condemnation from across the continent, was our most significant, shared victory in 2021.

I would like to extend my personal gratitude to each of you for standing with UEFA at such a challenging moment. Your support has ensured that all our achievements, for years to come, will continue to build a sustainable future for football in Europe.