UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin met sports ministers of the 27 EU member states in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss how sport, and particularly football, is crucial to communities across Europe as we tackle the challenges of a changing world.
President Čeferin was a guest speaker at a Council of EU Sports Ministers, where he stressed the importance of “unity, determination, solidarity and resilience” in tackling the collective challenges facing European society.
He was invited to speak at the event by the government of the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency, at a meeting in Prague last week with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Football Association of the Czech Republic (FAČR) President Peter Fousek. During that meeting, Prime Minister Petr Fiala emphasised his country’s support for UEFA and the European sports model, which was a key focus of yesterday’s speech.
Protecting the European model of sport
This formal occasion between the UEFA President and the EU sports ministers was timely, coming nearly a year to the day since the EU member states adopted a landmark resolution on the key features of the European sports model last 30 November 2021. Čeferin praised the member states for the strength and importance of that resolution, in which the EU member states issued a joint declaration of commitment to defending the key features of a European Sport Model, including the pyramidal structure, the open system of promotion and relegation, the grassroots approach and solidarity, as well as sport’s role in national identity and its social and educational functions.
In a defiant speech, Mr Čeferin pointed to European football’s collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread rejection of the so-called European Super League as evidence of how UEFA and European football upholds key European values and plays a powerful role in raising awareness on human rights, environmental and social issues.
“Sport and football in particular have this power to bring unity – unity in our homes, unity in the stands, unity in our communities, unity in our nations and yes, even unity in Europe,” he said.
“Together, as European partners, the EU and member states, UEFA and the wider European sports movement, we do not see sport as an asset to profit from. It goes so much deeper than that. It is part of the fabric of our communities, it has roots in our culture, it is fundamental to the health of our children and societies, and it unites.”
UEFA and European football have been widely backed by EU institutions, heads of state and European ministers, as a leading success story of the European sport model. European Commissioner responsible for Sport, Mariya Gabriel today welcomed President Čeferin’s remarks at the Council and recalled to the EU ministers present the European Commission’s ongoing commitment to strengthen this model and partnership with UEFA.
Strong ties between European partners
UEFA and the EU’s longstanding partnership was renewed and strengthened recently with the signature of an ambitious Arrangement for Cooperation focused on EU priorities including promoting the European sport model, the EU Green Deal, the Union of Equality and healthy lifestyles for all.
“UEFA has been at the forefront of respect since the beginning,” Čeferin said. “It is not so obvious to everyone because it is a normal objective for us, and we do it naturally.
“Our fight against discrimination and our programmes to foster diversity and inclusion are incorporated within almost every regulation we have. Even our bidding processes and criteria to host major events are developed to ensure these values are maintained. And why are our efforts so important? Because it is our duty and our responsibility.
“Our central mission is to develop and implement collectively with our member associations, leagues, clubs, coaches, players and fans lasting solutions that nurture the European sports model.
“I am proud to say that European football is one of the leading success stories of this model, where we prioritise solidarity and sustainability – not profit and power.
“We surpass even the standards of five-star charities by giving more than 95% of our revenues back to those who need it in football.”
The UEFA President emphasised that the current model serves the interest of the many – not a chosen few, and drew a stark comparison for ministers to the failed super leagues project and its backers whose model is purely commercial entertainment and profit based.
No opportunity without unity
UEFA invests revenue from EURO tournaments to national associations through the HatTrick programme, ensuring the development of the sport at all levels right across Europe.
Since 2004, HatTrick has invested almost €2.5bn into European football, with a further €935m earmarked between 2024 and 2028.
“We have even more members than the European Union – 55,” said Mr Čeferin. “All of us have one thing we are working towards: to preserve, promote and develop football across the continent. We care about one another, and recent crises have demonstrated this.
“Big-small, rich-poor, male-female, elite-amateur, all of them are welcome and treated with respect.
“Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta and Romania are some of the countries who will stage the women’s and men’s EURO youth tournaments in the next two years – just like Slovakia and Ireland recently did. These competitions are organised at a loss but we are not focused simply on profit and so called ‘entertainment’.
“Over 1000 clubs have participated in UEFA club competitions since the beginning. Participation in our competitions by clubs across our members brings excitement and meaning, also to those domestic leagues, and this ultimately brings benefits to your societies and nations.
“This is our vision of football a model that serves the interest of the many – not a chosen few. We have a wide road open to us as we approach EURO 2024 in Germany and the Women’s EURO in 2025. We have the momentum. And we are the biggest social movement of this continent. We are ready, we are willing, and we are one.”