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15th Apr 2024

Football good for European integration, says Platini

UEFA president and former French football star Michel Platini has made a passionate plea for preserving the exclusivity of football and sport across EU regulations, arguing the game is a vital cog in the process of social and cultural integration across the continent.

Addressing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based 47-member human rights body, on Thursday (24 January), Mr Platini urged legislators to respect the specific nature of European sport and underlined the key role of federations, such as his own, in promoting inclusion and participatory democracy in Europe.

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"European sport has always been a powerful catalyst for social and cultural integration. Millions of children from all parts of the world have become and continue to become European by kicking a ball around a muddy pitch in our towns or countryside before going to school," the former footballer from Lorraine said.

"Grassroots sport is an extraordinary catalyst for ethnic intermixing and integration. Football in particular is a welcoming, protecting and integrating sport," he added, praising in particular the thousands of volunteer sport workers across Europe

"99% of clubs and sports organisations in Europe are non-profit-making, and form part of a pyramidal structure which keeps sport democratic and transparent," he said.

Mr Platini however admitted that many social problems, such as violence, were unfortunately also a part of sport, in particular football.

"Society has also passed other scourges on to the world of sport: money-laundering, match-fixing, illegal betting, racism and xenophobia, doping, child trafficking."

The UEFA president told the Strasbourg assembly that he wants to set up a European sports police force to help law enforcement authorities deal with the criminal activities that surround sport, and will try bring up the idea with French government in order to develop legislation in this regard during France's six-month EU presidency, which starts in July.

Last year, justice commissioner Franco Frattini said he would push for the creation of police teams to help curb fan violence at football events before the 2008 European Championship in Switzerland and Austria.

The commissioner said he could imagine multinational teams of people dedicated to preventing violence at sporting events across Europe.

Keep football away from competition laws

In Strasbourg, Mr. Platini also repeated earlier statements that if professional sport was treated as just another business, all sporting activity would ultimately be viewed through the "terribly distorting prism of competition law."

In June of last year, the commission presented a both eagerly-awaited and dreaded strategy on sport in Europe. Awaited because Europe can do much to support sport, but dreaded because the sports world feared what EU rules it would have to adhere to in the future.

The commission's white book on sports addresses, among other topics, the sensitive question of whether EU anti-monopoly rules should be applied to football and other sports with a large influence over European economic, social and political life.

Brussels has traditionally not had any influence over sport.

EU competition law and internal market rules apply to sport only insofar as it constitutes an economic activity, while sport organisations and member states' governments have the primary say over general sporting affairs.

The question is, however, whether they will enjoy the same range of autonomy after a new EU treaty is approved by the 27-nation bloc in 2009.

According to the new Lisbon Treaty, the EU's executive body will gain a "direct, complementary" say in the sporting sector, providing it with the possibility of making legislative proposals.

But even if the commission has stated that the world of sports can no longer count on special favours from Brussels, it has restrained from proposing concrete legislative measures, referring to "self-regulation", and suggesting the compatibility of sport rules with EU rules should be tried on a case-by-case basis.

Football clubs have dejectedly stated that they worry there would be an endless string of cases fighting over the approval of decisions such as those concerning player purchases and transfers.

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