UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino welcomes a new club competition season and discusses the areas where UEFA is working hard to further improve the European game.
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Excitement is in the air as the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League group stages kick off this week. Millions of football fans around the globe and in the stadiums are gearing up for a season of memorable football, wonderful goals and world-class performances.
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino is passionate about his football, and joins everyone in welcoming the new campaign. "Great teams, great names, great players," he told UEFA.com. "The heart beats much, much quicker in August and September, when the competitions start again."
The UEFA Champions League continues to go from strength to strength – and recent changes to the access system are bearing positive fruit. "It's true that it's better to have more champions of more countries represented, because the UEFA Champions League is boosting the whole football movement within a country," said Mr Infantino. "And to give more champions from more countries a possibility to participate has a big impact on football all over our continent. As the European governing body, we have to care about the whole of Europe."
The UEFA Europa League, meanwhile, is entering its second season. Was UEFA happy with the outcome of the new competition's inaugural campaign? "We did not expect such a huge success in the first year," said the UEFA general secretary, "but everyone is telling us what a great competition it is. It is truly a European competition – with teams with a lot of tradition. This season we have 24 countries represented, which is basically half of Europe, in the group stage."
The 2010/11 season also sees the continuing experiment with two additional assistant referees in the European club competitions. "It will improve the decision-making on the field and will improve the game," said Mr Infantino, "which is fundamental for the future."
Off the field, UEFA has introduced a far-reaching financial fair play concept. The programme is a key element of UEFA's work on behalf of European football. "Financial fair play is certainly another one of our top priorities," he reflected. "It is basically there to help the clubs to be more rational, to be more sustainable. We have watched the finances of clubs in the last few years and we've seen that lots of clubs are making losses. This cannot continue because otherwise the whole system will collapse."
Meanwhile, the fight to combat illegal betting and corruption is intensifying. "As long as there's the possibility for even one single match to be fixed or manipulated, then we have to keep on fighting to kill this cancer," said the UEFA general secretary.
"We have set up the Betting Fraud Detection System [BFDS] which monitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, over 29,000 matches in Europe. If something is happening we receive the information and we can act, either before the match or after with disciplinary proceedings.
"We have already taken several disciplinary measures against players, against clubs and referees even, and are certainly not afraid to take further steps in this direction because this is a threat we cannot let continue."
One thing that UEFA feels it is essential to promote and encourage is the idea of Respect throughout football. This call will ring loud and clear this term. "Respect is one of the campaigns launched by the UEFA president, Michel Platini," Mr Infantino explained. "This simple word, Respect, shows already what we want to see on the field of play, what we want to see outside the field of play.
"Football has to be a celebration ... [for] everyone who is involved, close or far, from referees or players to supporters."