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Op het UEFA-congres in Athene sprak Michael van Praag rond de klok van 10.00 uur de 55 lidstaten van de UEFA toe. Lees hier zijn integrale speech van de campagne ‘Building Bridges’.
Dear football fans,
May I call you all that? I’m sure I can. Because it is as football fans, football lovers that we have gathered here today. It is as football fans that we will soon cast our votes.To decide who will chair all the football fans in Europe. That is how I see it anyway. We are here for our sport. The sport that brings us all together and that plays such a vital role throughout Europe. I would like to become the chairman. Who, with your support, will ensure our sport continues to play that role. Everywhere, right across our continent.
For too long now within our environment, football hasn’t been on the agenda enough
Football is politicised. It’s all about the interests of money, particular regions, certain competitions, certain clubs, the interests of .... Well, you name it. Yet, first and foremost we are representing our sport, the fans and all the men and women who passionately train to play football. Or wish to play football. Or to love football.
You see, in parts of Europe there are still countries and regions in urgent need of pitches, kits, accommodation and administrative support. I have seen it with my own eyes on my campaign trail. The places where football development could really use a boost. I want to help those countries. You can count on me. You will get what you need. That is what I stand for: solidarity.
This is the moment for you to decide. It’s about time UEFA truly listens to the associations. And does something with your proposals. That everyone is timely informed and that we make decisions together. Building bridges within UEFA by organising Top Executive Programs in a different way. Building Bridges in my opinion means: no longer countries in their own fixed regional working groups. But rather organising mixed Top Executive Programs where different countries can share their views on the future. I want, no: I will listen to your ideas and opinions on a regular basis.
I believe my age is something to be proud of
And in the past few weeks I’ve listened to you very closely. The topic of my age has been raised. That I could only be your president for 2,5 years due to UEFA’s age limit. Yet I say to you: I believe my age is something to be proud of. My age is my USP. Because of my life experience and years in football administration I can immediately set to work. I don’t need time for onboarding so no costly time will be wasted.
Friends, do you know Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger? These Rolling Stones are 70 years or older. Still rocking crowded stadiums. What does age mean when you are happy in doing what you want to do. Doing in what you believe in. Making music. Building a better football society. Age means quality, knowledge, wisdom, balance. It gives the space in your mind to help develop young talent.
You know, any president you elect today would be subject to the same 2,5 year term. Those are the rules. At the upcoming congress I’ll propose to amend the age limit for an ExCo member and the president to 75 years of age with a maximum term of 12 years. Just as we did within FIFA. If you want me to leave after this term, I will leave. But if you think I’ve done a good job.... then I’ll be available. And I can be your president for 6,5 years. Long enough to implement the necessary changes within UEFA.
I feel strong, standing here. Full of energy. I am one of you. I’m not sitting in an ivory ExCo tower. We are gathered on historic soil. Democracy was founded here in Athens, Greece. Democracy means: listening to the people. As a true democrat during an election I first made a plan, a manifesto, and then took to the road to convince you.
To convince you of the importance of Building Bridges. To convince you of the need for improved relations with the associations, the leagues, the players, the clubs, and the supporters. But also with the world outside of it. The leader of the UEFA must engage with the political arena. I’ll not only open an office in Brussels straight away, but I shall visit the European leaders at least 4 times a year.
And not only in Brussels. Also outside of the EU. I’ll be there to help the associations convince their governments of the need to invest in football and stadiums. We also need to improve UEFA where needed. Much is working just fine, but things could run more efficiently and economically. I believe it is possible to save a lot of money. As your president I would make a scan straightaway, across the entire organisation: financially and structurally.
The money we save can then truly be spent on football
For instance. If we could reduce the organisational costs by 3% it would already mean € 1 million per association per year. The money we save can then truly be spent on football. Because that is what it should all be about. The development and support of football across all UEFA countries. This is why I shall set up an infrastructure fund. No pitch, no football.
I shall consult with the financial sector to assess if we can get cheap loans for the associations for infrastructure. I shall negotiate contracts with suppliers and manufacturers. Cheaper pitches, cheaper lighting systems and cheaper travel. ExCo members must be active within their association.
If you’re no longer active then you shouldn’t be able to participate in the following elections. We also need to fully examine the composition of the ExCo. The voice of upcoming football countries needs to be better heard. And I shall evaluate financial fairplay.
Financial Fair Play 1.0 has reached its goal. Now it’s time for Financial Fair Play 2.0. A better balance between the richest and poorest must be achieved. And UEFA needs a business plan. Just as any other organisation. It will be your plan. It will be our guidebook.
This is a decisive moment for European football
These pledges I make to you, the congress of Football Fans of UEFA. I dare to say to you here today: this is a decisive moment for European football.
Do you know, I sometimes dream about taking my young daughter to a Champions League Ajax final. To feel the tension rippling through the stadium. To see a thousand flags and snippets of paper fluttering everywhere. To see the glistening eyes of a young striker who knows he’s going to grab his moment. Having my child experience everything I was privileged to experience 21 years ago as the chairman of Ajax.
When I say this out loud in the Netherlands now, people laugh at me. Ajax didn’t even qualify for the Champions League this year. For many years now the million dollar deals have been restricted to the biggest clubs alone. And so the big clubs become richer and solidarity with the smaller clubs is even harder to attain. Like you, I believe that top-end dazzling football is played by too few clubs. In far too few competitions.
Bunched up in a limited area in OUR part of the world. Just as in days gone by I want more clubs to have a chance. Clubs from for instance Hungary, Georgia, Belgium, Denmark, Croatia and Austria to also have a chance to play in European finals. Simply going for that one opportunity. Just as I am doing now.
So in my opinion it’s about who you ask to stand at the helm. The associations are right that they are angry to not be informed timely on important subjects. And I share the frustration. But I guarantee you. On my watch I will not allow the clubs to put the gun to our heads. I guarantee you, the day I take office, I will get all football stakeholders and associations around the table on this subject to renegotiate the deal.
I guarantee you a stable UEFA, a transparent UEFA, a more communicative UEFA, a cheaper UEFA, a more honest UEFA. A UEFA with governance, compliance and transparency that belongs to the 21st century. A united UEFA in which we help and stand firm with one another.
I’m seeking to lay the foundations for a powerful UEFA with a football vision that stretches far ahead into this century. We need to lay those foundations now, without allowing our UEFA to play itself apart. And I promise you: I’ll be on top of things. I will move straight away to Nyon in order to pick up the reins. As your president I’ll hit the ground running.I want to be a hands-on executive leader, to improve UEFA and improve football.
Dear football fans. I want us to be proud of football again. Within a changing landscape we are seeking a new identity for our European football. It is time for new leadership; inspiring leadership. I am asking for your vote, based on my extensive experience. But also on my drive to grab football by the horns at a crucial time and to prepare UEFA for the future.
To quote Mick Jagger: Time is on my side.