The memory of a marvellous summer spectacle continues to burn brightly as 2012 comes to an end.
The highlight of another hugely interesting UEFA year was UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine – a festival of superb football and a celebration of the national-team game which fulfilled every expectation. Spain made it a magnificent hat-trick of major successes, winning their second straight European title to add to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The unstinting work carried out by UEFA and the two host associations in the years approaching the tournament paid off handsomely. "Poland and Ukraine have organised a fantastic tournament which will remain in our memories," said UEFA President Michel Platini as the final round came to a close. "Never was the phrase 'Creating History Together' more true in terms of economy, infrastructure, football development and social development.
"EURO 2012 has left the best legacy that we could have ever produced, and my overriding feeling today is one of pride," he added. "The EURO is leaving a very significant legacy in the two countries. The players have played excellent attacking football, there have been a lot of goals, and the fans have made a unique atmosphere." A doping-free EURO also added to the positive environment engendered by the tournament.
With the dust now settled on UEFA EURO 2012, UEFA set the course for the next two final rounds in the ensuing months. Preparations for UEFA EURO 2016 in France are gathering pace, and at the end of the year, UEFA's Executive Committee took an innovative decision by deciding that UEFA EURO 2020 will be staged in various major cities throughout Europe.
The decision to stage a 'EURO for Europe', rather than a tournament in one or two host countries, means that the UEFA National Team Competitions Committee will next examine various elements before reporting to the UEFA Executive Committee early in 2013.
"An opportunity like this, to give many cities and many countries the possibility to host even just one part of a EURO, is certainly an excellent thing, especially in times when you have an economic situation where you cannot expect countries to invest in facilities in the way such an event requires," said UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino. "Instead of having a party in one country, we will have a party all over Europe in the summer of 2020."
Four years of experiments with extra pairs of refereeing eyes came to a climax in July. The use of additional assistant referees (AARs) – whereby two officials stand on each goal line to watch penalty-area incidents in particular – was incorporated within the Laws of the Game. The AARs were successfully deployed at UEFA EURO 2012, and are now in action in UEFA's club competitions.
"What we have seen is a better [refereeing] control of the match," said UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina. "There has been a reduction in incidents – particularly at set pieces such as corners and free-kicks – better control of the goal line and higher accuracy in terms of decisions taken by the assistant referees. These goals have been achieved thanks to additional assistant referees."
Financial fair play – designed to bring greater financial stability to the European club game – is beginning to have an impact. Winter and summer transfer spending went down. "This underlines the impact of financial fair play and the fact that many clubs have overstretched or no longer have easy access to debt funding," said Mr Infantino in August. However, top-division financial losses still need to be addressed. "It underlines the clear need for financial fair play," he added.
In June, UEFA launched a Club Financial Control Body – a UEFA disciplinary organ – to add extra impetus to its financial fair play drive. In a related move in December, the UEFA Executive Committee took a firm stance on third-party ownership of football players, deciding that it should be prohibited as a matter of principle.
UEFA is looking to have the necessary regulatory framework put in place to protect clubs and prevent the risk of clubs going out of business. The objective is to safeguard clubs for the longer term.
It was a year in which UEFA strove constantly to create an environment of unity with football's stakeholders. Memorandums of understanding were signed with the European Club Association (ECA), European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) and the players' union FIFPro Division Europe. Dialogue was sought with supporters' bodies. The healthy relations with the European political authorities continued to thrive. The European Commission confirmed that UEFA's financial fair play rules tally with EU state aid policy, and a European Parliament report on sport highlighted MEPs' backing for all of UEFA's main policies and core values.
Women's football continues to flourish. UEFA's sterling work with its national associations within the women's football development programme (WFDP) is having a profound effect, with more and more women and girls getting involved in the game. European club youth football received a considerable boost with the announcement that the new UEFA Youth League will get under way in 2013/14.
The new centralised marketing system for the European national-team qualifiers will give national teams' matches more exposure and will enable the associations to increase their financial stability. In October, the UEFA Executive Committee awarded the commercial rights management of its national team competitions to CAA Eleven, a company that will be exclusively dedicated to managing the broadcasting, sponsorship and licensing rights on behalf of UEFA.
UEFA's social heart kept beating. Respect for opponents, opposing fans and referees proved an important social responsibility project at UEFA EURO 2012 and beyond. Matchday three in the UEFA club competitions in October provided a high-profile platform in the campaign against racism. In August, the UEFA Monaco Charity Award of a €1m cheque was presented to the Stefano Borgonovo Foundation in aid of research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Care for football's grassroots culminated in the pan-European UEFA Grassroots Day in May, emphasising that football is for people of all ages.
So much is happening on so many levels, with football at the heart of UEFA's work and vision. "Football is too beautiful for us to leave it exposed to the numerous dangers that threaten it," said Mr Platini at the UEFA Congress in Istanbul in March. "Football is a wonderful thing, a treasure we must preserve. I feel that together we are continuing to move forward. Not only that: we are heading in the right direction.
"Violence, match-fixing, illegal betting, doping, pressures and threats against players, flouting contracts, trafficking of young players, money laundering: these scourges exist. They exist in society and they exist in football. It is up to us to fight them, with the help of the public authorities.
"So let us protect the players, let us protect the game, let us clean up football," Mr Platini concluded. "This is our aim. This should be our obsession. Many of our projects are done in this spirit, in a deliberate attempt to put morality back at the centre of the game – let us continue creating history together. Football deserves it."
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