KEIR RADNEDGE in WARSAW
— Michel Platini’s increasingly snappy responses to his questioners in Warsaw have illustrated better than any words a realisation that his credibility is on the line as never before at Euro 2012.
The European Championship here in Poland and Ukraine kicks off with the Poles taking on 2004 title-winners Greece in the imposing new National Stadium. Anything less than success for the event will land firmly on the doormat of the French president of UEFA.
Of course, in the absence of ‘real’ action, everything this week has been about expectation – from Platini at a pre-tournament press conference to the children who swarmed through the depths of the stadium a few hours later to rehearse their every step in the opening ceremony.
Platini had a taste of the building pressure when he tried to sidestep the issue of a political boycott as neatly as he used to veer past defenders in the mid-1980s when he was a European title-winning captain and top scorer out on the pitch.
“UEFA never gets involved in politics,” said Platini, conveniently forgetting UEFA’s very political refusal to try to prevent Kosovar teams playing against anybody anywhere at any time. “We’re not going to be politicians. We’re never going to talk about religious politics; we’re never going to talk about racial politics.
“You can think what you like but I think my role as president is to organise competitions in the best way I can for everyone that loves football all over Europe. If politicians from some countries want to boycott then they can if they want to.
“When UEFA voted to come to Poland and Ukraine everyone was very happy. The European Commission promised, like all the western countries, that it would be a great adventure for eastern Europe. Now do we need to change because Madam Tymoshenko is in hospital and they won’t let her out?
“What do you want us to do? Politicians do politics – everyone has their job – and I do my own job.”
At least he promised would UEFA take a direct line if racist chanting or banners erupt during a game. However even here Platini introduced an equivocal note by warning that it was not up to players to take the law into their own hands, as Italy’s Mario Balotelli has threatened.
Balotelli, who fled Italian football for Manchester City after a campaign of racist abuse by rival fans, has said he would walk off the pitch if chants were aimed at him.
Platini responded: “We’d certainly support the referee if he decided to stop the game but it’s not a player, not Mr Balotelli, who’s in charge of refereeing. It’s the referee who takes these decisions. So, the referees have been given advice and they can stop a game if there are problems.”
“I think it’s a global problem, especially in Europe. I don’t think there’s any more racism in Poland and Ukraine than in France or anywhere else, or even in England. It’s not a footballing problem. It’s a problem for society. We just try to regulate problems in football.”
Another of Platini’s core concerns is match-fixing and he underlined UEFA’s ongoing commitment to the fight against corruption while scandals and controversies rage on in Italy and Turkey, to name but two members of the UEFA family.
Platini said: “At a UEFA level, we’re trying to implement systems so that we can actually fight against match-fixing. Almost the entirety of things that are coming out about match-fixing have been said by UEFA.
“We have an alert system which costs quite a lot because it covers the 53 countries in Europe, for the top and second divisions. We have also taken a big decision in that those who are involved in match-fixing will never play football again.
“There is zero tolerance for match-fixing, and I hope the same attitudes will happen in Italy. Those who are involved in buying and selling football matches should never play football again. It’s treason against football.”
Finally, on a more positive note, Platini had words for the praise for the tournament preparations undertaken in Poland and Ukraine. He was a newly-installed president when the co-hosts were approved and, looking back, he thought they did not realise the weight of work ahead.
Platini said: “I’m very satisfied where we are today because we have had a few concern in terms of stadiums and cities. Was it going to be done in time? Were airports going to be ready in time? We’ve still got a few problems in Ukraine, but I think that should come to an end.”
And as for the football itself?
Platini has no doubt: “Spain and Germany can be the best if they play to 100pc of their potential.”
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