KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY: Michel Platini has no time for politicians who call for sports boycotts of countries and events because of their impotence in their own sphere.
Platini, former France captain and coach and now president of European federation UEFA, found himself under such pressure before and during the European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine two years ago.
The boycott issue has been revived after two United States senators urged that FIFA should strip Russia of its hosting of the 2018 World Cup finals because of the annexation of Crimea.
Platini, tasked on the issue at UEFA’s 60th anniversary congress in Astana, Kazakhstan, said: “They are always asking about boycotts and I get fed up with it.
“These people are never interested in the sport proper. I remember that politicians boycotted Ukraine during Euro 2012 but, when it came to the final of the competition, it seemed I saw the prime minister of Spain there and the prime minister of Italy.
“When you boycott things you need to boycott everything – embassies, air travel and so on. But the system is it’s just sport, sport, sport, that needs to apply boycotts. There are many people who don’t like sport who ask for these things.”
Recalling his own playing days, Platini said that he had been put under pressure not to play for France at the World Cup in Argentina which was then under a military regime.
He said: “In 1978 they asked me to boycott Argentina; earlier this year they asked me to boycott the Sochi Winter Games but my opinion is that I should go and speak my opinion.
“Politicians should take care of politics but sport needs to be a place of brotherhood which brings people together. I’m against boycotts. It’s better to go there and express your opinion than not to be there at all.”
On the theme of football as a vehicle for integration and education Platini announced the launch of a programme to set up and develop football academies for promising young players and the creation of a UEFA children’s foundation.
Recalled that UEFA was celebrating its 60th birthday this year, he said: “What did our founding fathers have in mind? They had two major objectives: to develop football across the continent, and to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from its role in society.
“Today, the time has come to refocus on those two fundamental objectives. We need to return to our roots – to go back to basics. We need to refocus on our core tasks, on our social purpose and our raison d’être.”
Platini reviewed a string of project including development tournaments for boys and girls, increasing final-round fields in UEFA competitions, new concepts such as the ‘EURO for Europe’ in 2020, technical exchange programmes and the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson as UEFA coaching ambassador in January.
He added: “That is why we are launching a programme to establish and develop football academies for promising young players.
“This training centre development programme is aimed at discovering talented young players throughout Europe, training them, following their progress and helping them to advance, in order to produce not only great players of the future, but also decent and responsible citizens.
“A dedicated unit has been created within UEFA in order to implement this project. The Ronaldo of tomorrow may be living in Moldova or Latvia – who knows? This elite football programme will help you to find him.”