12th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Sport
Belgrade, Serbia, 15 March 2012
Speech by Mr Michel PLATINI, President of UEFA
Deputy Secretary General,
I am delighted to have the opportunity to be with you again this evening given the close relationship that has developed between UEFA and the Council of Europe. The last time we saw each other was in Strasbourg, in September last year, when you adopted a recommendation on the integrity of sport. Now, I invite you to continue on this path.
Ladies and gentlemen, this evening I would like to mention a few key ideas which, I am convinced, will guarantee the future success of European sport.
In September I came to you to decry an evil that is destroying the “glorious uncertainty of sport”, namely online-betting-related match fixing. Nobody in Europe is immune from it any more. And nobody feels immune from it any more, either.
Ladies and gentlemen, match fixing has caused serious alarm. I would say tremendous fear even. “Fear” because behind each of these matches lurk organised criminal networks and these criminal networks exploit loopholes in the law to ransack entire competitions.
But is our society is helpless in the face of this apparently elusive scourge? No. Is it powerless? No. Let us not accept the idea, which I have heard suggested, that the autonomy of sport is an obstacle to intervention by public authorities. This is simply not true! Match fixing is an offence against public order. It cannot be resolved, therefore, using the resources of sports bodies alone. The fact is that our effectiveness depends on all of us putting up a united and resolute front. It comes down to courage and determination, so let us show these qualities!
Dear friends, I am telling you, Europe must work together in the face of match fixing. Europe must mount a strong, ambitious and coordinated response to this scourge.
There are many ways of achieving this, but just talking is not enough. We need to act quickly and unequivocally. I therefore request immediate assistance from the member states of the Council of Europe: match fixing must be made a criminal offence. I insist: match fixing must be outlawed. There must be no sanctuary for match fixers. We must put an end to organised cheating!
With the same conviction, I would also say that there must be effective cooperation between the police and judicial authorities of European countries to destroy the strength of these criminals. This same cooperation must also destroy their corruptive power. Which of your countries would be so bold as to claim it could eradicate this scourge alone? Which would have the power? Which would have the means?
I am convinced that the wisest way of protecting the integrity of our sports is international cooperation. So, what do I suggest? I am in favour of an international convention on match fixing.
This convention would, of course, be just one step towards sincerity and integrity in sport. But it would also be an indispensable step and strong evidence of our intent.
Moreover, we need to establish an effective prevention strategy.
The French legislators have already understood this: under French law competition organisers have property rights over their events. This instrument is extremely praiseworthy. It enables sports bodies to decide on which aspects of the game and on which competitions bets can be placed. It therefore reduces the risk of fraud and match fixing.
There is no more time for empty words. We need action; bold and constructive action. I am asking you not to invent new instruments, but to resolve to select and implement recognised good practice.
Dear friends, we already know what needs to be done to eradicate match fixing. There is now an urgent need for action and reaction. Europe can and must take the lead because it is a role model that others will follow.
Ladies and gentlemen, the urgency and complexity of these issues must also not obscure other problems that are of concern for European sport.
You all know, the future of sport does not lie in violence. My desire to combat violence is based not only on emotion, but on determination.
For too long it was assumed that simply wanting sport to be peaceful would be enough. For too long we thought we had done away with violence. For too long we kept our eyes closed. As if violence and hooliganism could be warded off by keeping quiet, ignoring and forgetting.
The problem has still not been solved. That is why we have agreed to work together, with the Council of Europe. We will construct an imposing edifice of safety, security and peace in all our stadiums. This joint effort will be based on the convention of 1985.
Dear friends, I can tell you here without the slightest hesitation: I will never spare any effort to rid our stadiums of violence forever.
FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY
I would now like to turn to a very topical subject which concerns the economics of football.
Ladies and gentlemen, the financial situation of football clubs is extremely perilous: in 2010, European clubs accumulated losses of more than €1.6 billion. Losses of €1.6 billion during a period when they earned more money than ever before!
These figures illustrate the fragility of the system itself, which has turned some of these clubs into gigantic casinos.
This is a harsh and worrying reality, but there is a solution.
It is clear that we need to change this situation. We need to lead football towards financial discipline. We need financial fair play. I can sum up this approach with two common-sense principles: “live within your means” and “there is a limit beyond which you must not go”.
As I am sure you have understood, the situation has become untenable. We are therefore taking action.
With financial fair play, we will change those unhealthy habits which, quite rightly, shock the public.
The task before us is already daunting. But we cannot ignore certain questions: in particular, what would happen if financial fair play were declared unlawful by some rebellious or resentful court?
Dear friends, I ask one thing of you, and that is to protect financial fair play. I am asking you to replace dangerous uncertainties with legal solutions.
I have just been talking about clubs. But it is also important to me to mention the future of national teams.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, competitions between national teams are the true expression of European citizenship. I would even say that they contribute to the cultural heritage of our continent. And yet, national teams are experiencing difficult times. Their legitimacy is undermined by the reluctance of some to release players.
In the face of this uncertain situation, one country has taken the necessary step. One country has established the compulsory release of national team players as a principle in its national legislation. That country is Spain.
Such an initiative proves one thing: that it is possible to put an end to this problem. It is therefore delusive to hide behind the autonomy of sport.
I imagine some of you may be surprised by what I have just said. But I am convinced that selfish behaviour must be replaced by dignified legal solutions. This is the next task at hand.
I have one last matter to raise. It is one which indirectly concerns the whole world, as it relates to the universal nature of the rules of the game. It is sporting justice.
Ladies and gentlemen, sporting justice is now threatened on a daily basis by schemes designed to rob it of its prerogatives.
Many people refuse to even discuss the matter. They are pessimists who think that any idea that challenges conventional thinking is doomed to failure. Personally, I cannot relate to such a principle of pessimism. Avoiding the problem is not the same as solving it.
Let us not allow purely sporting disputes to be taken before state courts. Ask yourselves, what would happen if the rules were interpreted differently in Madrid, Rome and Brussels?
As I am sure you have understood, I am committed to giving our arbitration procedures the guarantees they desperately need. I will never give up on this commitment.
The task is huge and complex, but it is what the sports community is waiting for. Who could put up, in the long term, with the problems we have experienced recently?
In short, reforms that used to be unthinkable must now be adopted and implemented by means of a joint effort.
I am nearing the end of my speech, I can assure you. But before I finish, I would like to say a few words on a more personal note.
Mrs Samardžić-Marković, I hope your counterparts know how much Serbian sport has benefited from your everyday involvement as sports minister. I would like to congratulate you on the success of the policy you have implemented here in Belgrade, and promise to support you in the functions you will shortly be assuming in Strasbourg. As a fervent European, I am delighted to know that you will be at the Council of Europe in the months and years to come.
Member of the European Parliament,
Every day I see how, for millions of Europeans, sport represents a refuge, a horizon, an identity. If Europe were to lose all that, Europe as we know it would no longer exist. So let us work together. Let us work together to give sport the common-sense rules it requires. This is our common fight: for the durability of sport and the future of Europe.