Board Member Olli Rehn
Bank of Finland
Welcome Address to the UEFA Congress, Helsinki, 5 th April 2017.
Dear Alexander Čeferin, President of UEFA,
Dear Gianni Infantino,
President of FIFA,
Leaders and Delegates of National Associations of UEFA,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Helsinki!
Regards from the Helsinki football stadium. We just had our weekly morning training game of the Eduskunta team, of the Finnish Parliament, and the staff of the Finnish F.A. That’s a great way to start a working day – you are welcome when next time in Helsinki on a Wednesday morning! – So I will provide you with some fresh "locker room talk" now.
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome and address you on behalf of the Republic of Finland, where we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our independence. We are truly honored and delighted to host the 41st UEFA Congress – the leading decision-making forum in European football – in our country in this very special year, and I want to warmly thank the UEFA and its President Alexander Čeferin for the decision. The Finnish Football Association turns 110 years old this year. It was one of the civil society organizations that are always essential in sustained nation-building, thus paving the way for independence. Likewise, the Bank of Finland recently celebrated its 200th anniversary, having been founded in 1811, which makes it the 4th oldest central bank in the world.
Today, football is by far the largest sport in Finland when measured by the number of active members and players. I am proud of our grassroots, youth academies and football development. It has a major impact on the community spirit and in the personal and civic development of young people, both in this country, all over Europe and globally.
Football is larger than "only" a sport. It requires both individual skill and excellent teamwork, which makes it a microcosm of life in general. The social skills and stamina you gain from such team sport are invaluable later in life. That’s what makes the "chess of green grass" so fascinating. I trust that you, as delegates in this key European football forum, recall your key role and keep this educational and civil society dimension in mind, when developing the world of football further. While money and business aspects are inevitable in any modern sport, not least in football, the community dimension should not disappear from our beloved sport.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Football and Europe belong together. It is the most European sport of all. Like for many others, football started to draw my mental map of Europe, and I believe that is the case for many young boys and girls, then and now.
In my hometown Mikkeli the local football club organized a European league for Under-11 in its football school. I made my debut in Manchester United in 1968 at the age of six. In following years I played for Tottenham and Benfica, and then captained Real Madrid for two years and finally won the league title in my senior year, before having to retire from the European League at the age of 11. Career-wise, it’s been downhill ever since!
Your congress is taking place at a moment of big political uncertainty in global and European governance. Geopolitical problems, the refugee crisis, Brexit, the new US administration, and authoritarian tendencies in many countries – all these issues overshadow our time and our actions. In these turbulent times that we live today, it is ever more important in the European football body UEFA to recall the core values of the European endeavor. By this I am referring to the rule of law and human dignity.
That’s why ensuring high ethical standards and solid codes of conduct are critical for the future of European football. I trust the proposals today on reforms, openness and transparency meet this call. That’s at least what we, rank-and-file members of the enterprise, expect from our leaders. Immigration poses another major challenge for everyone in Europe. Here, football can play a positive role in supporting the integration of young immigrants into our societies. I know it from my own experience that a football team can provide an excellent way of getting into new social settings, especially when studying or working abroad. My veteran team in Helsinki, FC Soppa, does its own part in this integration, with more senior and middle-aged immigrants.
The campaign "No to racism! No á racismo!" has been very important, and I hope that this will be followed by further actions in terms of guiding the football clubs and youth academies to positively meet this challenge. In the Helsinki football fields I witness a growing number of youngsters of immigrant origin, and I very much welcome that – both for societal reasons, and of course to give new dynamism to the game itself!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With these words, let me wish you a stimulating and successful 41st UEFA Congress. Enjoy Helsinki and make good decisions, for European football!