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UEFA President Čeferin: What we must never forget about football

Congress President

Highlights of UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin's opening speech to UEFA Congress 2023, which reminded everyone who loves the game of the values that lie at the heart of football.

President Čeferin speaks at 47th Ordinary UEFA Congress

'How it keeps hundreds of millions of people on the edge of their seats'

"We must never forget how beautiful football is, how it stirs our emotions, how it keeps hundreds of millions of people on the edge of their seats, how football defines who we are. European football is a unique success story. It's a microcosm of our society. This is European football. Beautiful. Breathtaking."

'Our model is based on sporting merit'

"We're faced with galloping globalisation, and everything that implies. Benefits and risks as well. We shouldn't forget that. There have been temptations, and even attempts, to create new models, but they conflict with the European model that we cherish so dearly. Our model is based on sporting merit. Where we come from, merit has no price. Merit can't be claimed, and merit can't be acquired. It can only be earned. Season by season. On and off the pitch. There's no room for cartels on this continent. I think we have made that clear, all together."

'Domestic leagues must remain the foundation of football'

"They are the bedrock of our model, and I am deeply grateful to all the governments of European Union member states, including Portugal, who understood what was at stake here in a historic demonstration of solidarity. It's great that we know we can count on the support of the European Club Association (ECA). And I would especially like to thank Nasser [Al-Khelaifi] for that, to protect this football model. This cooperation is important and this cooperation is great."

©AFP/Getty Images

'Football is a public commodity'

"(Football) is one of the last public assets yet to be privatised. It doesn't belong to anyone, or rather it belongs to everyone: to players, coaches, referees, supporters and volunteers. We must never forget that we have a duty to ensure that the interests of football prevail over the private interests of a handful of privileged individuals."

'European football is moving forward as a team'

"We must continue to work together, we will continue to work together, and not just in times of crisis, because solitary exercise of power has only ever ended in disappointment and tragedy. This is why UEFA has changed its approach. The clubs and leagues are represented on our Executive Committee. We have launched an annual football convention involving all football stakeholders. We have signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding with supporters' associations. We are working in partnership with FIFA and the various confederations, especially CONMEBOL. And now with the new [FIFA World Cup] bid, we will strengthen the cooperation with Africa as well."

'Football is for men AND women'

"In the last few years a women's football division has been established at UEFA, a women's football strategy has been launched, we have successfully reformed the Women's Champions League and centralised rights, and we invested five times as much in EURO 2022 as in EURO 2017. A revolution is under way. Our next task is to adopt minimum standards for women's national team players. It will be for sure a milestone in the development of the game."

PA Images via Getty Images

'Solidarity and investment are the keys to football development'

"The 21% increase in HatTrick funding for the next cycle is neither charity nor cronyism. It is designed to enable one of the world's largest sports development programmes to continue supporting national associations across Europe. We will invest almost one billion EUROs in the development of the game."

'Some issues in society are much more important than football'

"We must play our part in tackling the challenges of the 21st century. This is why EURO 2024 in Germany will be the greenest EURO ever. We'll try to do our best to show the way, to show that our world needs protection.

"We must never forget that football is an inclusive sport, open to everyone. In cooperation with the federations and the clubs we need to target offenders more effectively whenever a player is subjected to racist, homophobic or sexist insults during UEFA matches. Maybe it's time to go with harsher measures."

'Leaders can never keep a clean sheet'

"Unfortunately, unlike goalkeepers, leaders can never keep a 'clean sheet'. No leader can boast an unblemished record … however passionate, professional or experienced they are. There are always a few mistakes that tarnish their reputation, errors they would love to erase. I am no different. UEFA is no different. The most important thing is to understand the mistakes, to change and to do it differently next time."

'We need to move with the times'

"Throughout its short history, UEFA has never been afraid of reform. Today, after an extensive and exemplary dialogue with the federations and all stakeholders, we are doing our bit by introducing bold new formats for our men's club competitions from 2024, as well as new Nations League and qualifying structures for men's and women's football."

'We're just passing through' 

"Football existed before we came, and it will exist when we're gone. But in the meantime, as long as we remain responsible for it, we must do our utmost to protect it. To protect the players. To protect the game."