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Momentous decisions for the future - in both national team and club football - have marked another hectic and fascinating year of activity for UEFA, crowned by a fantastic UEFA EURO 2008™ tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
Three weeks of spectacular football and frienship between the supporters who travelled to the two Alpine countries saw UEFA EURO 2008™ heralded by the European body as the best-ever final round. "I'm happy the football and the national associations have given such a fine image of football, we can be proud of what has been shown throughout the world," said UEFA President Michel Platini about the tournament.
Thoughts now turn to the 2012 finals, featuring joint host countries in Poland and Ukraine, and beyond then, in 2016, the UEFA European Football Championship final round will be contested by 24 teams in a move which UEFA says will give middle-ranked countries a greater chance of taking part in one of the world's major sporting events - thereby extending the fan base directly reached by the event (click here).
Meanwhile, on the club front, the venerable UEFA Cup was also given a new sheen by the UEFA Executive Committee in the autumn (click here). The competition will be re-named the UEFA Europa League from 2009/10. It will have a new 48-team group stage, a new logo and a new visual identity, all designed to enhance the image of European football's second club competition.
UEFA's relationship with the clubs was given fresh impetus in 2008. The foundation of the European Club Association, the signing of a historic memorandum of understanding between the new body and UEFA, and the subsequent disbanding of the G-14 grouping heralded a new departure in the game. (Click here for more details). The accord also brings recognition of national teams, as well as recognition of the leading roles of UEFA and FIFA in European and world football respectively. Clubs who contributed to making UEFA EURO 2008™such a success are themselves receiving solidarity contributions from UEFA. Respect has prevailed over the confrontation which had been rife in recent years.
Dialogue within the football family has gone hand in hand with dialogue with the European political authorities, with UEFA seeking to defend football's interests while respecting European law. UEFA has continued to press for the anchoring of sport's specific nature and sports bodies' autonomy in future European Union legislation. In addition, the European body seeks financial fair play in European football, especially through its club licensing system, and backs a ban on the trafficking of young players and on transfers of players under the age of 18.
UEFA has continued to make a telling contribution to fighting various negative elements in football. It operates a zero tolerance policy towards racism, and seeks to educate young footballers in particular against the dangers of taking drugs. The fight against corruption and illegal betting continues unabated, with moves taken to improve the UEFA early-warning system on issues involving possible corruption or betting irregularities through the recruitment of staff with specific experience in criminal investigation.
On the field, an innovative experiment with five match officials, tested at UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifying matches, has met with a generally positive reaction from the referees and experts. There were encouraging signs at UEFA EURO 2008™ that the 'Respect' message launched this year - urging respect between players, coaches, referees and spectators - can be taken on board. A new UEFA technical study group scheme sees national associations sharing know-how for football's overall well-being. The second four-year cycle of the ambitious UEFA HatTrick assistance programme for its associations got underway - confirming UEFA's commitment to reinvesting funds within the European game. As part of an intensive social responsibility programme, UEFA is nurturing a host of partnerships in line with its view that, through the sport's popularity, football can contribute to health and social cohesion in Europe.
At the vanguard
Football competitions remain at the core of UEFA's work, but the essence of the organisation has evolved over the years to include a wider range of activities. UEFA remains firmly established as one of the prime movers at the vanguard of the game as the European football family moves towards another exciting year.
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