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> Michel Platini: Not Just Another Business, The Economist

post May 15 2008, 04:05 AM
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The Economist come out with a special edition at the beginning of every year, 'The World in 2008' is the special edition this year. This magazine talks about and makes predictions on several key issues pertaining to the world, from the Americas to Europe, to the emergence of the giant 'India & China', Britain and USA, Sarkozy, etc etc ..


For tens of millions of Europeans, the passion of football is part of their daily lives, whether as players on the pitch, spectators in the stands or watching on television at home. And this coming summer they will be watching avidly as 16 nations compete in Switzerland and Austria in the finals of 'UEFA's EURO 2008', culminating in the final in Vienna on June 29th.

At a time when Europe is seeking to define and unify itself and to form an identity around a common set of values, nothing contributes more to this quest than the love for our sport across the continent. How many children have put down new roots in their host country by playing football, long before settling down at school? I would suggest hundreds of thousands.

The values championed by football are a powerful force for social integration and civic education. These values include the principles of financial solidarity, openness and opportunity. These are values not only of European football but of European society as a whole.
Nevertheless, as football becomes increasingly commercialized and is often seen (by some at least) as just another "business", it is all more crucial that we do not lose sight of the special characteristics that make our sport so attractive in the first place. For example, you cannot have an exciting sporting contest without some element of uncertainty. This means that careful measures have to be taken to protect the competitive balance between teams.

A sporting chance
"Normal" businesses may like predictability. Sport, however, thrives on uncertainty. In football, a predictable match is nearly always a dull match. So the governing body - the custodian of the game - has to ensure that football does not become dull; that it remains exciting. It must do so both to protect the sport and, hardly less important, to the interests of the public.
This leads to the question of how sport's rules and regulations should be treated under the law, in particular under European competition laws. It is encouraging that both UEFA and the European Commission are largely promoting the same objectives: a level playing field, equality of opportunity and, above all, the protection of the interests of a public that wants to see varied and exciting sporting competition.
We believe that the law needs to be applied in a nuanced way, taking into account the particular characteristics or the 'specificity' of sport. Balanced measures and regulatory policies are needed to preserve and enhance the quality of competition and to deliver wider benefits, such as improving the training and education of young players. The naked operation of the 'free market' will not accomplish these tasks, so it is up to the governing body to do it.
It is almost ironic that European economic law is cited when it comes to criticizing regulatory policies adopted by UEFA. For example, the central marketing of TV rights (and redistribution of the revenue) is designed to promote competition, not to restrict it. Similarly, our rules on the training of local players and squad size limits are not an unjustified interference with economic liberty but are intended to enhance competition and improve player training in the process. Are we really suggesting that the governing body for football in Europe should not be concerned with these matters?

UEFA intends to strengthen sport's rules and regulations to protect football. We are not going to abandon our sport to some to some purist free-market dynamic that will simply kill it off. Furthermore, we are optimistic that both judicial and political authorities will be supportive of us in our task, when they appreciate exactly what we are trying to achieve.
We need to protect and strengthen ethical sporting values - values that champion fair play, respect for referees and opponents, and fair competitions. We must defend the European sports model base on financial and social solidarity between rich and poor, as we are convinced that this is the best way to protect the future of football.
Football remains the most popular sport played and followed across Europe. Today's top professionals are watched live on television by millions of European citizens every week. To maintain a good image for the game we must start at the top: we have a policy of "zero tolerance" towards violence or racism, both on and off the pitch.
At the same time, we must nourish the grass roots. Through our "HatTrick" project we will have helped to build over 3,000 mini pitches and invested 300M euro ($420M) between 2004 and 2008 in our member associations. This is nearly all financed by UEFA competitions, so protecting their future is vital.
We must not have the sort of football where money can buy everything, including success. Let the fascination of sport prevail over the fascination for money.

- Michel Platini, The Economist 'The World in 2008'
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post May 15 2008, 07:36 PM
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That's a good read.
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