Speaking to delegates from the 55 UEFA federations and other stakeholders at the 46th UEFA Regular Congress in Vienna on Wednesday, Aleksander Čeferin highlighted the encouraging successes achieved in difficult circumstances and at an extraordinary time.
The UEFA president has been firmly convinced that football will continue to show that “a different world is possible, a world of resilience and hope in which not everything is dictated by power, profit or cynicism”.
The UEFA president spoke of the solidarity shown by the football community in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the threat of the so-called Super League that arose last year before the UEFA Congress in Montreux.
“I am proud,” said Čeferin, “of having had the opportunity to work alongside great women and men for the past two years.”
“We have been strong despite the adversity. Together we have found the solutions we needed. If we are united we are unbeatable and the club also wins.”
Čeferin described the failure of the Super League as “a blatant attempt by a few oligarchs and aristocrats to launch a project that would trample on all the values of European football and society”.
Great results and creative decisions
The UEFA President recalled that in 2020, UEFA had set aside its interests and postponed all its competitions to facilitate the completion of European national competitions. He highlighted UEFA’s creativity in changing the schedule and adapting competition formats in record time, devising a “final eight” in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
Football won, “he said,” because UEFA managed to organize the EURO during an unprecedented health crisis in eleven countries; because it invested five times more in the women’s EURO than in the previous cycle; because it decided to change the format of the Women’s Champions League., centralizing the rights and filling the stadiums with more than 90,000 spectators to see a competition with incredible potential ”.
The UEFA president also recalled that, despite skepticism, UEFA has bravely inaugurated another club competition, the Europa Conference League: “A competition that makes us live and breathe the football we love and that evokes the eighties “.
Sound financial management and willingness to help
During COVID, Čeferin explained, UEFA not only honored all solidarity payments in an unprecedented economic crisis, but also advanced payments to ease the pressure on troubled associations and clubs.
UEFA continued its solemn commitment to increase the federation’s solidarity funds for the next cycle, especially through the HatTrick development program, as well as payments to clubs, regardless of whether they qualify for European competitions. .
Football has benefited “because UEFA manages its finances so closely that it can reinvest more than 97% of its football revenue and spend less than 3% on operating costs”.
Listen to and defend the general interests
Čeferin praised the “relentless” work being done to ensure that UEFA EURO 2024 in Germany is a unique, accessible and sustainable European Championship based on humanity and solidarity, and expressed his gratitude for the close ties he is forging with the club. “A period of peace for club football is approaching in the next decade.”
With regard to financial fair play, Čeferin praised the support given to UEFA by all European football stakeholders for an in-depth review of the system, “in order to safeguard the long-term future of club football, stimulate investment and restore economic balance. ”
The announcement of the format and access list for the UEFA 2024/25 club competitions also follows useful queries with the European football community. “If UEFA listens to most clubs, fans and coaches and eliminates once and for all the concept of qualifying for UEFA competitions based on coefficients,” said Čeferin, “it is football that wins.”
“As a governing body with the duty and responsibility to defend the general interests, not the interests of a minority, together with the ECA and the clubs we have decided to remain true to our principles of sporting merit … and purpose. benefit “.
The president also explained that UEFA has offered around 20,000 free tickets for some club competition finals “to reward the loyalty of fans”, while offering a discount on 10,000 tickets for the UEFA Champions League final.
Čeferin also recalled how the timely intervention of doctors saved the life of Danish player Christian Eriksen during last June’s EURO 2020 match against Finland. “If UEFA adopts strict medical protocols that can save lives in the event of a cardiac arrest, football and life itself will win,” he said.
Caring for football around the world
Čeferin has celebrated the strategic alliance with the South American confederation CONMEBOL “to celebrate more than 50 years of friendship between European and South American football. It is not an alliance against anyone, but only for the good of football.”
UEFA had shown solidarity with other confederations through the UEFA Assist program, the UEFA Academy and the UEFA Children’s Foundation, or simply by agreeing to reduce the percentage of European teams in the World Cup from 2026 to improve the balance between continents.
A united spirit
Returning to the frustrated Super League plan, Čeferin spoke of the great spirit of unity shown by federations, clubs, leagues, players, coaches, fans, business and television partners, CIOs, EU political authorities and governments in “opposition. to an arrogant and contemptuous plan “. , conceived by a few billionaires who do not conceive that, on the field of play as in life, you can lose against someone smaller than you “.
Football, he added, has also benefited only from initiating a debate on its governance model with all partners and stakeholders, especially through the Convention on the Future of European Football launched in September ‘last year.
Treat problems honestly
Čeferin stressed that in addition to all the positive developments, it is also important to acknowledge the failures. “We still have a lot of problems to solve to make our sport a bigger model and source of inspiration than it is today,” he said.
Violence in stadiums remains a major problem. “If a family goes to a game, they just want to have fun,” Čeferin said. “People have to feel safe inside and outside the stadium, never in danger.”
The UEFA president said there was more work to be done to promote and integrate minorities into football at all levels. “To say that there is no racism or discrimination in football is not true,” he said. “These problems exist, in football as in the rest of society: we have to face them.”
“We also need to take care of the physical and mental health of the players. We need to take steps to prevent them from being abused on social media, provide psychological support to help them cope with the pressure they are under.”
Čeferin has been unequivocal about the need to give everyone a chance at football, “so that the little ones can continue to play against the big ones and sometimes win them by surprise everyone. That’s why football is a game. fantastic “.
Football gives hope and can make a difference
Football leaders, Čeferin said at the end, “must be very careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. If their demands go too far, they risk destroying the social pact on which our sport “.
“If football proves that a different world is possible, a world of resilience and hope in which not everything is dictated by power, profit or cynicism, it is the whole society that wins.”
“If football can have leaders like you,” he told UEFA Executive Committee members and federation delegates in Vienna, “then I know our sport is in good hands. our football, be the winner for many years “.