UEFA human rights, environmental strategy meets challenges

GENEVA (AP) — UEFA set itself a goal of ending racism in European soccer by 2030 as part of a human rights and environmental strategy that had an uneasy launch on Friday.

Other long-term targets include “zero episodes” of child abuse, embedding rights principles into all strategic decisions, reach “net zero carbon by 2040 … collaboratively across European football,” and eliminating plastic waste.

“It’s an ambitious target but we are looking to do it,” Michele Uva, director of the UEFA sustainability project, said of the headline goal on racism.

The challenges were clear even as UEFA formally launched its “Strength Through Unity” document.

The Sports & Rights Alliance group distanced itself from involvement with a project it said “places human rights solely as a public relations matter.”

“No matter what UEFA claims, the development of its human rights strategy did not entail a legitimate consultation process and it does not meet any international or European standards,” said Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch.

UEFA’s anti-racism work also must repair the relationship with a long-time partner, the Fare network, which helps identify high-risk games and gathers evidence. Fare experts have not worked at UEFA games this season.

“We want to drive our actions, we don’t want others to drive our action,” Uva said, adding UEFA talked with Fare and other organizations and was close to finalizing a new agreement.

The commitment to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 was stressed on the day UEFA acknowledged plans to add 10 South American national teams to its second-tier European competition in 2024, causing more inter-continental travel.

UEFA said it was “working on a number of projects with (South American soccer body) CONMEBOL, including a joint Nations League,” though no decisions have been taken.

It would be the latest tournament expansion for European teams, which often travel by private charter flight to UEFA-organized international games.

Hundreds of extra club games have been created this year by launching the Europa Conference League and agreeing to expand the Champions League and Europa League with more teams and more games starting in 2024.

“We know that every changing of the (competition) formats can have an impact in what we are planning,” Uva said, pointing to a “need to see the full picture” of the soccer industry and tourism economy.

“If we talk about only gas emissions, we are monitoring and we will set up something to mitigate the impact,” the former UEFA executive committee member said.

The UEFA plan seeks to “inspire, activate and accelerate collective action” across national federations, leagues and clubs to “respect human rights and the environment within the context of European football.”

UEFA’s own European Championship this year saw repeated incidents of anti-gay and racist incidents involving Hungary fans.

The same stadium in Budapest hosts the Europa League final in 2023, and the Sport & Rights Alliance pointed to issues with “press freedom and journalists’ protection” there and also in Russia and Turkey, which host the next two Champions League finals.

Child protection is prioritized by UEFA’s 55 member federations, who seek a risk analysis next year and a safeguarding protocol by 2024.

UEFA also wants more access and opportunities for people with disabilities by 2030, increasing the number of players three-fold and doubling the number of employees in the organization and at its events.

UEFA tournaments and events should also have zero plastic waste and food waste by 2030, the 60-page document said.

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