UEFA’s annual Congress in Paris this week saw political institutions and football stakeholders unite in championing the European sports model as the cornerstone of the EU’s long term vision for football across the continent.
After French President Emmanuel Macron committed to defending the open and solidarity-based model of European football on Wednesday, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, French Minister for Sports and Olympic and Paralympic Games, signalled her Government’s willingness to support national and EU policy action further evolving the model.
“The strengthening of (the model’s) founding principles … is something that might necessitate legal protection at the national and European levels,” said Madame Oudéa-Castéra in the opening address to UEFA’s 48th Congress on Thursday, “France will always be behind making these efforts, where necessary, for the benefit of our countries and our cohesion.”
The model’s principles of open competitions, financial solidarity, sporting merit and recognition of the social impact of sport have guided UEFA and European football since the governing body’s foundation in Paris 70 years ago.
Earlier Madame Oudéa-Castéra had joined 25 other EU sports ministers in issuing a joint declaration reaffirming the support of their respective governments for the European sports model.
Significantly, the document invites the European Commission (EC) to reflect on appropriate ways to implement a November 2021 Council of EU resolution to protect and promote the model.
This paves the way for both the EU mandate 2024-2029 and the new EU Work Plan on Sport 2024-2027 to incorporate specific actions aimed at further refining the model, in particular protecting football against breakaway, closed competitions that run contrary to the values of existing club and national team football in Europe.
The French Sports Minister warned: “There are threats to our sporting principles, and we need to be vigilant when it comes to… protecting our European model, which is so close to our hearts.”
Open competitions, sporting merit
By specifically referencing the need to maintain “the link between annual performance in domestic competitions and all European competitions”, the joint declaration underlines EU governments’ collective resolve to prevent breakaway closed and semi-closed leagues in European football.
Since UEFA’s foundation in 1954, clubs earn the right to participate in European competitions by qualifying each season through their national leagues. Open competitions, promotion and relegation and sporting merit lie at the heart of the European sports model, reflected in football’s pyramid structure.
In keynote speeches to UEFA Congress – the annual gathering of Presidents and General Secretaries representing European football’s member associations – both Philippe Diallo, president of the French Football Federation (FFF) and UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin echoed Madame Castera’s words
“This model is not a passive vision of sport. As executives of European football, we need to protect and promote a sport which brings our citizens together and which is important in the education of our youth,” said Diallo.”[European football] has been at the top of the game for decades … We are humble enough to put this indisputable success down to our unique model,” said Mr Čeferin.