KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has stood up for its direct response against the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
The European football federation abandoned the traditional sporting stance of avoiding political controversies by expelling Russian teams from its competitions and endorsing FIFA removal of Russia from the World Cup qualifying competition.
Ceferin, a Slovene lawyer, told UEFA Congress in Vienna: “Football is one of the losers, since we are depriving players, coaches and supporters, who have nothing to do with the current situation, of their dreams.
“It breaks my heart. My own region experienced this 30 years ago when it was ostracised by the sporting society but when UEFA issues unprecedented sanctions football is trying to make its own tiny contribution as Europe’s leaders pursue peace on the continent.
“It may be seen as a dangerous precedent but the cost of these events is greater than anything else, greater than the careers of a few hundred footballers and a principle of sporting neutrality which is no longer tenable in the context of war.”
The bulk of Ceferin’s address to leaders of all Europe’s 55 associations – including Ukraine, via video link – was a paeon of praise for the way European football and UEFA in general had emerged from two years of inordinate pressure.
On Tuesday UEFA’s executive committee had approved the expansion of the Champions League from 2024-25, a development which saw off – for the time being – concerns about the creation of an independent ‘super league.’
Ceferin said that the “brazen” rebellion by a dozen major clubs “world have trampled on all the values of European football and European society.”
Then came the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic which Ceferin described as “in a geopolitical context, one of the darkest thours of human history.”
However UEFA had successfully adapted, adjusted, recalibrated the scheduling of its competitions and supported many of its weaker associations financially.
Ceferin said: “When we stand together we are unbeatable and football wins. Society wins as well.”
Not everything in the past year had been positive. One issue pointed up by Ceferin was the chaotic crowd violence at Wembley which spoiled the Euro 2020 final last July.
He said: “Such images of violence are unacceptable. When a family goes to see match it is a time for fun and enjoyment. People should feel safe in and around a stadium. They should never feel in danger. With the authorities’ help this cannot happen again. Never.”
Ceferin also insisted that football needed to “do more to integrate minorities” as well as tackling “head-on” the continuing scourge of racism.
He said: “We must ensure that everyone is given a chance in our sport, that the small can continue playing against the giants and sometimes shock the world by beating them. That’s what makes football such a fantastic and beautiful game.”