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Lecture by Gerhard Aigner

Chief executive of UEFA (1999-2003)




Euro 2000 and the Social Significance of Sport

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today at the Hogeschool van Utrecht, and I thank the hosts of this event for giving me the opportunity to address you tonight. I was asked to speak about EURO 2000 and the social significance of sport.

Sport touches each of us, not only as a social phenomenon, but also as a factor of unification between countries, continents and cultures. We will all have a chance to see the various elements at work in a major sporting event relating to my own discipline – football – in this very country this coming summer. The Netherlands, together with Belgium, will be staging the final round of one of football’s most important and prestigious international competitions for nation­al teams: the European Football Championship, EURO 2000.


EURO 2000

This is the first time in the history of European and even world football that a major sporting event at this level is being staged in two countries. More than four years preparatory work are behind us and at a workshop at the beginning of March this year, the 16 participating countries entered the final phase of preparation for the event. More than 1 million tickets will have been sold and tens of thousands of enthusiastic followers will visit the low countries in June to support their team.

EURO 2000 is the showpiece of European football for national teams. It is the property of the football community on this continent. Each country’s national team takes part in the competition. Football enthusiasts throughout the continent have been following the qualifying matches, and billions of people will be watching the 31 games in the final tournament in The Netherlands and Belgium in June, either in the stadiums or on TV. UEFA, being aware of the overriding importance of the competition for the whole continent, has decided that all matches will be shown worldwide on free TV. Even China has bought TV rights to the competition.

The income from the final tournament will be distributed to all national football associations in Europe, whether they have qualified for the final tournament or not. This will be done over the four years up to the next European Football Championship.

How come that billions of people are focussing on this event? Obviously, football plays an important part in their lives.

EURO 2000 is just one of a host of top football competitions in Europe. The same billions of people also focus on football every week around the world. In Europe, specifically, there are also UEFA competitions for club teams, such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup. And there are other European competitions, from the Under-16 championship and the UEFA Regions’ Cup for amateur teams, up to the European Championship for Women.

And there is, of course, the mass of players in every European country, who play the game for pure enjoyment at the grass roots or in the different categories in each country. There are 51 European national football associations affiliated to UEFA, with a total of over 230,000 clubs, 18.5 million players, 1.2 million female players and over 350,000 referees.

And, as I have already said, there are those billions of fans who follow the game on the touchline, in the stadium and on television.


The Specificity of Sport

So, how come that sport, and particularly football, is so popular, and so much integrated in our daily life? One of the reasons why sport is so popular lies definitely in its own specificity.

Sport is a phenomenon that cannot be compared with any other sphere of our existence. Sport has its own specific nature. It is carried by volunteers, who often are participants and organizing officials at the same time. It allows individuals to attach themselves unilaterally, even over long distances, by sheer interest. It allows anyone and

everyone to be part of it. There are no special criteria as regards to intellect, race, religion or cultural background. Sport is organized to serve the participants in competitions. The rules are strict and unequivocal. They are applied by members of the sports’ movement. Their decisions are instant and, in many cases, final. The respect of the rules and decisions – even if they do not please everybody – is based on the general acceptance of imperfection.

Identification with the ethics of sport, with its objectives, with its rules, with athletes and teams, is an essential element in the sports movement. Fair play is incorporated in the word ‘sport’. It is a world where everyone is allowed to be a winner, at least sometimes. Sport’s structures have developed in conformity with its specific nature and differ from our normal sphere of life, such as at work or in business. It is a school of life. It is a mirror of conduct and its instant consequences. It reveals all the characteristics of the participants, their weak­nesses, their qualities as team actors, as individualists or as team–leaders. Their temperament and capacity of controlling emotions. Their power of overcoming disappointment and the capacity of showing respect towards others. There is nothing comparable to team sport in this respect, and it is true that employers could probably learn more than otherwise about their employees if they watched them playing in a game of football. That is why football is also a school of life. And football is the most popular sport worldwide.

Let me underline these basic comments by giving two quotes. Not long ago, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, said at the celebration to mark the centenary of the German Football Association:

‘Anyone in Germany (just like in any other country) who talks openly about football is taking a risk. There is no other subject that so many people can talk about, and hardly any other topic arouses so many emotions. Anyone who talks about football and says the wrong thing about a certain result, specific matches or clubs, team line–ups, substitutions or refereeing decisions, soon finds him or herself in the firing line. [...] A lot of people know little or nothing about the job of the President of Germany. In contrast, almost everyone knows what the German national football team coach does – and they all know how to do his job as well!’

To this statement by Johannes Rau, I found an answer in French literature, given by the writer Georges Haldas in the book La légende du football. It seems appropriate in this case to choose French literature, as UEFA’s first headquarters in 1954 to 1959 were in Paris and now are situated in the French-speaking part of Switzerland since 1995. I could have quoted other French writers, such as Montherland, Maurois or Camus, who also brought football into literature. Haldas says:

‘Yes, football, aside from everything else that it represents, is first of all, in the context of infancy, a voiceless relationship with Mother Earth and the elements – water, air, sun. It is further intensified by extreme physical exercise, which, in an urban environment, ensures you a refreshing communion with the natural element. Any match which is about to begin represents an opening to the unknown – just as if the world was about to begin. A new sky which seems to shower lustral water on everyone. And I say in all serenity – anyone who has not experienced it, can have no understanding of what happens inside a stadium, nor comprehend what people could possibly see in a football match.’

These comments by Georges Haldas may have a much deeper psychological meaning than one might think at first sight. However, they are appropriate to the topic I am dealing with, as well as to society.


Football Means Togetherness

Football is such a vast subject. It touches almost every walk of life. It is certainly not up to me, as Chief Executive of UEFA, to define football’s role in society in an academic, sociological or ethnological manner, or to give answers to all questions in this respect. First of all, we must all know what kind of society we want, and the role that we wish to give to sport, and particularly to football, in this society. I will therefore limit myself to general comments. These are based on my professional experience within European football and its day-to-day activities, and are designed to provoke your consideration.

Football is part of our society. What is the evidence for this? Football is a universal language without words. It means togetherness, it unites the masses in shared emotions and it is the people’s game.

Anyone who doubts the meaning of football to a community – be it a village, a city, a town, a nation, or a continent – should walk through the Shankly Gate at Anfield Road, Liverpool. Engraved on the gate is the following phrase: ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

The legendary Bill Shankly, coach of Liverpool, said: ‘Some people say that football is a matter of life or death. They are wrong: it’s far more important than that.’

Each football fan certainly remembers – if not live, then at least reading about it – the countless glorious football moments that brought a society together – be it in joy or sadness. The joy of the Brazilian player Carlos Alberto when Brazil won the World Cup in 1970, and the impact it had on Brazilian ‘society’. Also, the dignity of Kenny Dalglish, the then Liverpool coach, after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 tells us that football, as a mere ‘game’ can transcend sport as it is portrayed, and bring a whole nation together. When Bobby Moore, Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer and Didier Deschamps lifted the famous World Cup trophy, they also lifted the whole society. At Hillsborough, Bradford, Brussels and also down the Champs Elysées, people came together in joy, sorrow, camaraderie and shared grief. That means that football unites the masses in shared emotions.

What exactly is football then? How can it best be described? In the book 25 Years of UEFA, which was published in 1979, Walter Lutz, a Swiss journalist, said:

‘A game, the simplest game of all, has conquered the world. It is a game that can be played anywhere at any time, with a minimum of equipment and preparation. A patch of grass, two goals, maybe a little sawdust to trace the lines, 22 players and a referee – that is all you need. Apart, of course, from the most important item of all – a ball. [...] Simple.’

Walter Lutz goes on to say: ‘Part of football’s magic may also lie in the simple way of keeping the score – 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 and so on – and the fact that football scores have not become inflated like those in other sports. In football, every single goal is vital. But no human being has yet found the true key to football success, and none ever shall, as long as the players on the pitch are themselves human beings, and not robots. The sphinx of football will never reveal its enigma. For therein lies the game’s eternal magic, its unique fascination, its mistery and its unpredictability.’

Therefore, football is the people’s game. So, what have people in football, and what has society made of this simple game, of the people’s game? Of course, times change, technology advances, people’s appreciations alter, and our simple game, which, means togetherness and which unites the masses, has become a real part of the global village.

In the modern game, we have assistant referees, endless cameras to make their job more difficult, action replays, managers with watch­es bigger than ‘Big Ben’, and – sadly – players who cheat, but who are now detected as a result of the new technology. It’s a great game, and we should not ruin it. It all developed around a few people on a beach or in a street kicking a ball. But the challenge of the football authorities – and of society – is to ensure that in the 21st century, we do go back to our roots – for, without roots, plants do not survive. And without the children playing football on beaches or in streets, we will end up having no FC Utrecht, Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, Juventus Turin, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Liverpool or Manchester United. The football authorities and society must ensure that football lives on.

Society and football are as varied and mixed as you and I, wife and husband, black and white, male and female, and right and wrong. The celebrations down the Champs Elysées after France’s World Cup win in 1998 are as much a part of society as the Heizel tragedy in 1985. The common denominator was football. For all its faults and successes, it reflects society, and it is an integral part of our society. It can lead, or it can follow. We must make the best of it.


The Various Facets of Football

I would now like to comment, by way of some examples, on how football affects our daily life or our daily business at the top of the administration of the European Football Union. The various elements do affect us all, as we are all part of this society. Whether we are fans or not, whether we want it or not, you cannot read a newspaper or watch TV without football appearing at some stage, either as a match report, or in any other context.

1. Football and Classes

There is an interesting comparison between football and rugby over the decades. Originally, the game played using the hands (pre-‘Rugby’) was regarded as ‘lower-class’, while the game played with the feet was ‘upper-class’. Then, Rugby School in England, by civilising the ‘other game’, put it in the hands of the ‘upperclasses’. Now, there is a swing back towards football becoming a game which is almost classless. However, there is an increasing social divorce between the top players and the class from which they may have emerged.

2. Football as Entertainment

Every game of football has its own special entertainment, is a unique production. No two matches are the same. There are incidents, moments of excitement and dramatic events that are specific to each encounter.

Football and television is a chapter on its own. Billions of people derive endless pleasure from watching football on television. How­ever, there are difficult aspects involved in the relationship between football and television. On the one hand, if too much football is shown on television, will this stop people from actually going to matches in the stadium? On the other hand, without television and the amounts of money which TV pays to show football matches, it would be difficult to generate the financial resources necessary for football’s well-being. Football, indeed, is also entertainment. And television adds its own spectacular qualities to bring out the best in the game.

However, some problematic elements cannot be ignored. For example, there is pressure from the media and the paymasters in the entertainment business to change the rules, in order to cater for the demands of media programmers. One example of their demands is the introduction of advertising breaks during matches. As the entertainment dimension becomes more and more significant, can the sport resist this trend? Football and television still have a certain number of common problems to be solved.

3. Football and Travel

Millions of football fans pay money to travel to see football matches. There are links between travel habits and trends of football support­ers and the accessibility of international venues. This again has economic and social repercussions for both developed and developing countries in terms of their infrastructure, with regard to airlines, hotels, roads, restaurants, etc.

4. Football and Fashion

The sports clothing market is growing in importance within the overall fashion industry. Again, this has economic and social implica­tions. There are links at international superstar level between footballers and the fashion industry. Nike, Adidas, etc. are a must among young people.

5. Football and the Female World

The game has ceased to be an overwhelmingly male domain and has become a favourite pastime equally for many women – not just as spectators, but also as players. The United States did not succeed in developing football as a mass-spectator sport after the World Cup in 1994. Yet, last year, 90,000 spectators attended the Women’s World Cup final in Pasadena. Surely, there are lessons to be learned from this. How will the feminization of the sport influence the overall development of the game?

6. Football and Drugs

Although this has not been as much of a problem as in ‘individual achievement’ sports, such as athletics and cycling, it is a growing problem, which needs to be tackled in conjunction with medical professionals also working in other sports. The massive increase in income has led to a growing use of so-called ‘recreational drugs’, such as cocaine. How do we tackle this as well? Control seems to be always one step behind development. We know from other sports that ever new methods are found to escape from efficient control. Are sports organizations capable to master this problem?

7. Football and Sports Medicine

Yet again, this shows how football can have a major impact in areas far away from its actual setting. New discoveries, as a result of research into certain types of injury, show the importance of sports medicine as preventive medicine, and its vital role in maintaining fitness and health in any society.

One of football’s major aims is also to promote physical well-being and good health. So, there, in terms of medical care, football also plays an important social role. Like in other sports, there may be a risk also in football of exaggerating the physical burden on players. The lucrative TV contracts cause clubs to play ever more games. Physical tiredness leads to injury. Lack of recovery shortens the career of the players. The medical experts have an important task to protect the players from exhaustion.

8. Football and Globalization

The game must surely try to escape its cultural roots in a European/Latin setting and become a universal reference. Rather like the global web, it is increasingly the ‘property’ not of a nation or region, but a global phenomenon. In Europe, we need to be aware of the influence, good and bad, of the game in Africa, South and North America, Asia and Oceania. The impact of players from diese regions, and the corresponding effect of European football in many parts of the world, is a significant phenomenon.

It can, however, be used to break down many of the social barriers that have held us apart for so long. For example, football can be used as a way of combating racism, especially if specific campaigns accompany the matches, as we have done in UEFA in co-operation with the European Commission on the occasion of the Meridian Cup in Portugal in 1997.

9. Football and the New Media

The likely impact to the game via the Internet in the 21st century will not only be greater accessibility, but also a link with the favourite clubs over a greater distance, in terms of geography, for millions of supporters worldwide. Examples of this are the existence of Manchester United supporters’ clubs in Tokyo and Tibet, a phenomenon which is linked to the globalization of the game.

10. Football and Money

Reading media reports today raises the question in us:

• Has our ‘simple’ game been hijacked in modern-day football? Football generates massive amounts of money, but is this money well spent?

• Does this money go only to the few players at the top? What about the countless millions who play for fun, fitness and friend­ship?

• Many football players earn far more money than the President of the United States. A football club can earn international economic recognition. To win the final of the UEFA Champions League is the stuff that dreams are made of.

• The problems of compatibility occur when top teams command resources that are comparable to huge multinational corporations, whilst the majority of local clubs are struggling to make ends meet. Do we need a better, wider redistribution of income, in order to enhance the fostering of younger players?

• The growth of corruption, bribes, scandals, pay-offs, money-laundering, etc. How do we keep football out of the hands of these circles? Is there a need for more internal policing?

How can we pretend that these practises are absent in our game when we find it almost everywhere else?

• The impact of the top players and the assumption of superstar status. How can such players cope with this (and the lifestyle that goes with it) and, at the same time, subject themselves to the rigours of training and the discipline of team effort? Many top players do not seem to have made the transition from ‘local working-class boy’ to media super-hero. This is another social aspect that is worthy of study in the present day.

• One thing is certain: never before was there so much money in football, but never before had so many clubs such financial difficulties. This speaks for itself.

This (short) list of subjects – which can be enlarged at any time –proves that football cannot leave us indifferent. It affects us in everyday life.

But let me now move on to three specific topics, namely:

• football and violence

• football and politics and, finally,

• the European integration process.


Football and Violence

Since war should no longer be an option for civilized societies, football has increasingly taken its place as an outlet for aggression by a part of ‘the masses’ in many parts of the world. This has a good side (war should not actually take place) and also a bad side. As a consequence, we in football are forced to control hooligans, racists and so on. No international football matches take place when states are at war with each other. If a country is in a state of civil war, the domestic championship is cancelled. International politics – represented in this case by the UN, whose decisions are adhered to by the interna­tional sports organizations – assume the leading role in such a case in a political, military (and also socio-political) sense. However, we need not just to think only about wars: aggression also occurs in times of peace, as a result of political, economic, social and religious tensions. And as a result of these tensions, which continually exist within a society, no organizer of a major sports event – either domestic or international – can be sure that disturbances will not arise.

Football lives from emotional strength, which leads to millions of people flocking to its events. However, certain forces are involved in these emotions which have nothing to do with football. Football becomes a kind of gauge, a measuring instrument, and is not the cause of the tension and conflict. A debatable penalty, a goal which is ruled out, or a foul which is not detected, might lead to feelings running high for a certain amount of time among both sets of supporters. However, such scenes caused by events on the field of play are not relevant in this respect. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the causes of the tragedies which football has experienced in recent years are only to be found in society and not in football itself. The stadium is merely the venue where the conflict takes place. An example of this is the problem with national or international hooligans.

It is not up to me to define what exactly hooligans are, or to seek reasons why people become hooligans. However, it is a fact that neither sportsmen nor real football supporters come within this category of troublemakers, who are continually in the spotlight, at home and abroad, and who are often organized on a supranational basis. They can surely have no interest in football, as their lifestyles must be guid­ed and dominated by other motives. Nevertheless, football has had to face the problem of hooliganism, and it has – rather unfairly – been made the scapegoat by everyone when disturbances and crowd problems occur.

Football is doing its utmost to prevent such excesses: clubs and associations keep detailed files of members and appoint specialist supporters’ stewards to travel to away games, where they can spot and single out hooligans. For many years now, the international football authorities have followed self-created and self-imposed safety and security provisions and conditions, and work constantly together with police and security authorities across national borders in preparation for international football events. For UEFA, this meant to work together with the Council of Europe to help draft the resolution against spectator violence at sport events.

Football has disciplinary measures to combat the problem of violence and misconduct in the sport itself and on the pitch. They are known as the Laws of the Game and the principles of ethics and sporting conduct. Referees and control bodies ensure that these laws are observed and obeyed. However, football cannot be made responsible for all of the aggression, violence and other negative phenomena that occur within its environment and are inherent to society. Other institutions within our organized existence must take responsibility for this.


Football and Politics

Since the very beginning of the glorious history of sport, politicians have always shown an interest in football’s activities. They were the first among many to realize the vital function that sport performs, and, particularly, football, as the most popular sport. Certain political figures are inclined to hop on the bandwagon and to use football for their own ends. They use stadiums for populist reasons, they favour with ‘the masses’ or associate themselves with victory.

Football, on the other hand, has always tried and tries to maintain a fierce independence. This is a basic rule of the footballing movement. Yet, this independence is often threatened, depending on the type of political party in power. We in UEFA had to live with political interference during the times of the iron curtain and most recently during the Balkan crisis. On this last occasion, political leaders requested UEFA to take a political stand when they themselves could not reach a unified political position in the crisis (Yugoslavia/Ireland).


The European Political Integration Process

Europe has been undergoing an integration process for many years now, in the economic, political and social fields. The same is true for football, which has pursued its own path of integration and solidarity on this continent, almost unobserved by the general public.

However, the European political integration process, which start­ed soon after the end of the Second World War, affected the European footballing movement in a dramatic way a couple of years ago. Here, I have to open a special chapter about a major incident that has come to be known as the ‘Bosman’ case.

Based on European law, the ‘Bosman’ ruling of the European Court of Justice of December 1995 has revolutionized European football in just a few years. At the same time, the court decision opened all doors for an unhindered access to any external party to materialize commercial objectives within the football movement. This to an extent that the football structures are in danger of being completely dismantled by initiatives which are purely commercially motivated. Until the decision of the Court, the European footballing movement had been self-regulating. For example, if a player left club A for club B, club B had to pay a transfer fee to club A.

And this money remained within football. The European Court of Justice, however, was of another opinion, based on the Treaty of Rome, which guarantees free movement across the borders. So the Court just declared the system as illegal. This international transfer system, which had been set up by world football’s governing body FIFA, is thus no longer applicable within the EU/EEA area for players at the end of their contracts and moving between two clubs belong­ing to the EU/EEA area. I remember certain parliamentarians declaring the transfer system as modern slavery.

By making such statements, those concerned revealed their lack of knowledge of the fabrics of sports in general and football in particular.

Due to the Court decision, two different rules are now applicable within the football world. For many smaller clubs, the revenue stream compensating them for the education of players has been abolished, because young players do not have any contract. So they are treated as players at the end of a contract. What is worse: the football world and the clubs in particular have found another way of transferring players against payment. Only this new method involves the players moving in the course of the season which leads to a destabilization of the national and international competitions. On top of that, the players’ agents have found a bonanza situation. With each transfer, they earn fantastic amounts of money, so they are constantly encouraging their players to move.

The other serious damage derives from the abolition of the so-called ‘3+2’ rule, which was a limitation of non-selectable players on the field for the UEFA club competitions, i.e. players not eligible to play for the national team of the country concerned. This opened the market within the EU/EEA area for many players from abroad, not only for EU/EEA citizens, but also for the rest of the world. Most of the clubs in the five big markets now have more and more foreign players in their squads, and the teams are losing their identity, because most of these players do not stay for the whole contractual period with their clubs, as they earn more money if they change clubs more often. For the national teams, this also has serious conse­quences, as young talents have no chance to improve, due to the presence of so many players from abroad in the club squads. UEFA is trying to find solutions in this vital sector in order to protect the na­tional teams.

Some months ago, I attended a meeting in Germany with Sports ministers. The British minister, a fan of Chelsea FC, praised his team as symbol for the European integration with a large majority of players from abroad. In fact, only one player of the regular squad comes from England. I think this was a rather populist judgement by the minister. I consider the composition of the mentioned team more an economically motivated occurrence rather than a good example for the integrating factor of football. The latter is rather the case with the hundreds and thousands of small clubs in the big cities, which ensure the integration of cultural minorities in our society.


The European Footballing Integration Process

European football, on the other hand, has continued its own integration process, not only in the West, but also in the East, where Western football associations – under the leadership of UEFA – have given outstanding support in financial, technical and administrative terms to their Eastern counterparts on their way to independence and self-determination after the breakdown of the Iron Curtain.

Football is sport, competition, teamwork with space for individuality, skill, solidarity, fascination, unpredictability, excitement ... it is all about human nature. And it is, above all, a factor of integration. Real proof of this is given by the history of European football over the last forty years. The national football associations in Europe rec­ognized the unifying effect that football had on so many people. These associations joined together and founded the European Football Union (UEFA). This meant that Europe was united in footballing terms long before the term ‘a united Europe’ had even been coined.

And these associations – which exist within an atmosphere of mutual trust and solidarity, and which are proud of the country which they represent – will now meet this coming June in The Netherlands and in Belgium for EURO 2000. They will prove that football is a crucial factor of integration. It is the integration of the individual in a team, and also in society, because people are being united on the field by a common goal. This unity has been constructed within European football, while, at the same time, national particularities have been preserved. Belonging to Europe does not stop any person being at­tached to his or her country, singing the national anthem and being proud of the national flag. It is unity in diversity.


Conclusions and Perspectives

I hope that I have given you some ideas about football, EURO 2000 and the social significance of our sport. Football is a team sport that is played by individuals. These individuals learn how, through work­ing together, the whole becomes far more important than the sum of its individual parts.

The great majority of football supporters want, of course, success for their side, but most supporters would also – I believe – readily accept that any individual who gives his (or her) whole for the team deserves credit. We must strive to rid the game of the bigotry that has corrupted society: xenophobia, sexism, racism, religious tensions, money. Does football wish to become a substitute for nationalism and xenophobia? I say no. And if I have spoken at length about the dramatic difficulties of football in these modern times, I am not at all pessimistic for the future. It is true that the game of football is at present exposed to an aggressive commercial and political environment. It is likely that there are too many non-experts having their go at the game and even if it seems to be a very simple game, it requires great expertise to pass the ball with precision. Otherwise it ends up in unwanted places. It appears that some of the new actors are underestimating this prerequisite for a successful functioning. What we have to do now is to make sure that the ball is back in the game and can be controlled again by those who have the expertise.

It is of course also my job to promote football, and if you are not already a football fan, there will a great occasion to become one this coming June at EURO 2000. I hope those of you who follow football will enjoy watching your country play. I also hope that EURO 2000 will bring new converts to the game. Those of us involved in running football think deeply about the game. And – as we stand at the beginning of a new millennium – it is our task to ensure that football con­tinues to fulfil its role as an essential social force and unifier for bil­lions of people around the world.

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