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'Football first' is not an idle boast for UEFA. As European football's governing body, UEFA has a sporting and a moral responsibility both to protect the future of football, and safeguard the game's well-being from various negative influences that could, among other things, threaten football's integrity and stability, or the health and well-being of those who play the game.
UEFA works diligently to protect football and preserve its essential values. In recent years, the body has introduced Financial Fair Play measures aimed at bringing discipline, rationality and responsibility to clubs' financial management, and curb the financial excesses which have endangered the existence of certain clubs.
Match-fixing has become a danger to football's integrity, and UEFA is at the vanguard of the movement fighting this phenomenon. The governing body is committed to maintaining football's spirit through programmes of education for players, match officials and coaches, a sophisticated monitoring system, cooperation with the betting industry and strengthened links with law-enforcement agencies and state authorities.
The fight against doping is a key priority for UEFA, which conducts doping controls across its competitions and punishes those who are guilty of taking banned substances. One 'positive' case is one too many in UEFA's eyes, and the European body runs a comprehensive education programme, in which young players in particular are warned of the career-threatening dangers of doping.
UEFA is determined in its drive to protect young players in other areas. The body has promoted the local training of young players, and introduced provisions for the inclusion of a minimum number of 'homegrown' players – trained for at least three years between 15 and 21 by their club, or by another club within the same national association – in clubs' UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League squads. UEFA has also argued in favour of the protection of minors – given the fate of many young footballers who, for example, left their home countries to join a club in return for payment, but who were then left with no schooling to fall back on if they did not make it.
The role of the medical sector in football has become crucial in the modern-day game, with UEFA making its own vital contribution to the area of medicine and sports science. Associations swap information and good practices with the Football Doctor Education Programme (FDEP); the UEFA Injury Study collects vital data on how injuries can be prevented; the UEFA Research Grant Programme has awarded grants for research projects in the medical field; and minimum medical requirements are in force at all UEFA matches – guaranteeing that players and officials are provided with the same high quality life-support medical service across Europe.
Referees are also responsible for protecting football by strictly applying the Laws of the Game: protecting football's image in punishing bad conduct, protecting players from challenges that could endanger their safety, and acting against, among other things, mobbing of the referee or incidents of mass confrontation. They are also entitled to take strong action in the case of racist conduct by spectators.
Finally, each week, thousands of supporters travel to UEFA matches to be entertained by exciting football matches. These fans are the lifeblood of football. They should be able to enjoy the festive atmosphere and celebration of football without any concerns about their safety or well-being. UEFA is committed to making the matchday football experience a positive one for spectators in the stadium. It works together with national associations, clubs, local authorities and police forces to ensure that matches in Europe are hosted in a pleasant, safe, secure and service-oriented environment.