NYON: UEFA president Michel Platini, on his end-of-year message, has underscored a need to safeguard “football’s essential values” and a responsibility to help ensure the game’s well-being.
Fernand Sastre, co-president of the Organising Committee for the 1998 FIFA World Cup and a former great French football leader, taught me these few words by Albert Camus – words which remain etched in my memory for good: “All I know most surely about morality and the obligations, I owe to football.”
The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature – we celebrated the 100th anniversary of his birth this year – who shared a love of Algiers as a common link with my friend Fernand, expressed his passion for the world’s most popular sport in this way. I would have liked this phrase to have been mine.
Camus knew how to put into words what I have always felt so deeply inside. Football has taught me everything. Pitches have been my classrooms, and substitutes’ benches have been my detention rooms. A true school of life . . . and like every school, this particular one is equally duty-bound to pass on values, points of reference and hope.
Consequently, at a moment when we are making an assessment of European football in 2013, what can we say about these values? Or let us perhaps ask the question in a different way – what would Mr Camus have said?
I can easily imagine that he could have written that the morality of men leaves something to be desired, given the fact that in recent months, football has not always projected the best possible image of itself. Practices which are morally reprehensible have persisted, despite efforts to eradicate them, such as:
The manipulation of matches; the violent or discriminatory excesses of extremist fringes which pollute the stands at certain stadiums;
the excesses of the transfer system; the extravagant amounts collected by ‘middlemen’;
contracts which are not respected;
players’ salaries which are not paid; the trafficking of minors, who are promised the moon by peddlers of dreams, but the vast majority of whom only find disappointment and misery; and
the third-party ownership of players – a veritable time bomb in modern-day football.
These are scourges which are tarnishing football’s image at a time when the game itself has reached unprecedented levels and offers a spectacle like never before.
Certain bodies which are in charge of handling a large number of these issues are having considerable difficulty in tackling most of these problems head-on.
As for the public authorities, it appears that they have finally become aware of these dangers, and are beginning to give priority to cleaning up sport.
However, time is short, because to not act is, in a way, to already show complicity. Of course, UEFA has its share of responsibility, and we are assuming this responsibility. We would like to – indeed, we should – often act in a quicker and firmer manner.
Nevertheless, we have moved to the next level in 2013, and important decisions have been taken.
During the year which has passed, clubs have been excluded from taking part in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, either for reasons related to their financial mismanagement, or because of their involvement in match-fixing.
For this same latter reason, referees have been suspended for life from any footballing activity.
Matches have been played behind closed doors to punish the behaviour of so-called supporters who do not belong in our stadiums.
Finally, European clubs’ financial balance sheets have been studied attentively in the light of ‘break-even’ rules, and the first conclusions will be delivered in a few months’ time.
As far as Financial Fair Play and the other issues are concerned, we will be capable of taking measures which are imperative for football’s well-being.
All of these measures are not making us popular. That is patently clear. However, my aim is not to be popular. My aim is to be responsible.
It is a responsibility that I must take on, in order to ensure football’s continued existence, as well as the future of our competitions, which are most certainly the finest and most popular competitions in the world.
I must take on this responsibility to remain hopeful that another kind of football is possible.
A football that is free of cheating, violence or injustice. A football which has virtue and which respects certain values, as practised happily on thousands of pitches across Europe every weekend. A football that is only a game – and nothing but a game.
I must also ultimately take on particular responsibility out of respect for the many thousands of players, coaches, instructors, referees, volunteers and supporters who bring European football to life on a daily basis. I would once more like to offer my sincerest and warmest thanks to them.
To every one of them, to those who invest without counting and, more generally speaking, to all of those who love our sport, I would like to wish them a very happy and prosperous year ahead – a year full of emotions, full of the simple and intense joys that only football – without doubt the most beautiful game in the world – can provide.
Finally, it would be remiss of me if I did not close this end-of-year message by paying tribute to FC Bayern München, who have won all of the competitions in which the club has taken part in 2013, including the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco a few days ago, thereby bringing honour to European football . . . and, of course, we must also wish the best of luck to the 13 national teams who will represent Europe at the World Cup in Brazil.
I have one single wish – that the FIFA World Cup remains in Europe for another four years.
# # # # #