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Football's Reform Act on the horizon

Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros might not be as prominent a figure in the world of football as Michel Platini or Sepp Blatter, but if proposals that could change the landscape of European football are implemented, then he may well become so in future.

As chief executive of the Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), Medeiros has revealed how important reforms could be supported at the organisation's general assembly in Manchester on March 30 following a landmark meeting of the EPFL board in Madrid in just two weeks' time.

Medeiros was in London this week for a meeting on intellectual property rights and sports betting issues when ESPNsoccernet caught up with him ahead of the February 11 meeting in Madrid, which will set in motion the final stages of some of the biggest reforms in the history of the European game.

The formation of the Premier League in 1992, the change to three points for a win and the inception of the Champions League have been amongst the most startling changes to the game in the modern era. However, now the relatively new amalgamation of 950 professional clubs across 30 European nations have combined to become the most influential force outside of UEFA and FIFA, further change could be afoot.

Television income might have underpinned the formidable financial standing of the Premier League, but there may be an even bigger pot of gold in sight. The European leagues have united with governments throughout Europe and with the European Union in order to tackle the 'pirates' who use the clubs' intellectual rights on the internet and elsewhere, and the betting industry that uses the copyright of the clubs and the leagues. The EPFL estimates the industry is worth €14 to 17 billion across the continent.

In addition, the EPFL will tackle illegal betting, fraud and corruption, putting into place a universal code of conduct with severe punishments for anyone within football who breaches new, far stricter betting regulations within the game. The global fixture calendar will also be examined, and there will not be a winter World Cup in 2022 if the European leagues do not endorse it.

Medeiros uses the language of a diplomat urging radical change on a united front when explaining the principles upon which his organisation's planned reforms are founded.

He told ESPNsoccernet: "We stand for the future development [and] enhancement of the game, with a social conscience, seeking solutions for challenges of global dimension through global solutions. But we are taking a reformist approach. We are a constructive organisation. Our voice is sober and responsible, but equally we are promoting active reform. Indispensable reform."

So exactly what are the reforms that will change the game as we know it?

1. Intellectual rights

This is more of an imminent victory than a fight, as a triumph is within touching distance and ready to be endorsed at the two landmark meetings.

Medeiros explains: "The streaming of matches, logos, data, images and all the clubs' and the leagues' intellectual properties must be legally protected . This is football's main income source and, if duly protected, may form a new and extremely large source of income for the whole of the sport to benefit from. I cannot quantify how much, but it will be a significant amount. Without such ability to generate revenues and ensure its economic viability, how can sport continue investing in grassroots or sporting grounds and pursuing its social function to the full?

"To this end we have lobbied the European Union and all the national governments to open their eyes to the sport's legal rights. We are dealing with all sorts of pirating: people making money from football illegally, an endless number of websites streaming matches. This is all part of the new age digital piracy. We are making progress and we have European Commission and Parliament approval, including the recognition of the urgent need to protect all of football's content, all of these intellectual rights, which are vital to ensure sport's economic viability and social role."

2. Betting

Medeiros argues it is vital that football and other sports have in place proper controls on betting using intellectual rights - fixtures for example - in order that the clubs can profit from income and control illegal betting.

"There are different laws in different countries. Whereas France introduced a new law on May 1, 2010 opening up regulations regarding the ownership of the intellectual rights of the sports authorities and how it relates to the multitude of betting companies, there is at the moment a different and less satisfactory legislative approach in England. However, in England there has been a recent court ruling which recognised the fixture list is under the copyright protection bill. This was a positive development but the need to take legislative action still remains."

The EPFL praised the proactive approach by the French government. On March 2009, the Finance Minister Eric Woerth announced strong measures to protect the integrity of sporting competitions and ensure that organisers get a fair return from betting companies for the commercial exploitation of their fixture list and other property rights. Online sports betting is now permitted in France, but subject to a new licensing and regulatory regime, ensuring the sports authorities' involvement in the licensing process and in the decision as to what type of bets, if any, are to be allowed on their events, as well as ensuring a fair financial return.

Medeiros added: "Equally we need to ensure the integrity of our competitions from the threats posed by unlawful betting, fraud and corruption, to ensure that our sport remains credible and sound. There have been a number of irregular patterns detected around Europe, not in England I should point out, and they have been reported to the proper authorities."

In July 2008, the EPFL signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Sports Security Agency to detect irregular betting patterns and ensure, as much as possible, that professional football remains clean and free of corruption. As a result of that, a number of irregular betting practices have been signalled and brought to the attention of the concerned leagues. A code of conduct is ready to be put into place for the start of next season, once approved at the general assembly. It will include zero tolerance for anyone within football betting on any event they are involved in, directly or indirectly.

"We have all seen the problems of insider betting, and there is an urgent need for a proper code across all of Europe's leagues," Medeiros said. "All the new rules, which should be implemented by the leagues in accordance with their own sphere of competences, will come with the consequences if they are not respected. There is deep concern about betting, and our aim is preventative, but also to establish the proper dissuasive measures to deter it."

3. Financial stability and solidarity

This means backing the Platini blueprint for financial solidarity and financial transparency, and seeking to have the highest financial standards throughout all the leagues.

"Financial sustainability is the watchword," Medeiros explained, adding: "this means that even the big leagues, and the most powerful clubs, recognise the benefit of the smaller leagues and the smaller clubs. Interdependence of clubs has always been one of the key features of the European football model and the basis for its success and global appeal. This means collecting selling of rights but also equitable distribution of revenues and financial solidarity.

"We feel that UEFA's Financial Fair Play system is to be welcomed by the clubs to enable the clubs to be sustainable organisations. So we compliment UEFA on driving through club licensing system and sound financial criteria and taking on board our views. At the national level, we also want clearing houses for transfer of players, we want a sustainable and transparent football financial structure."

The EPFL is creating a database and assessing the different regulatory frameworks that concern club ownership and fit and proper persons tests. It hopes to ensure that clubs remain independent and free from any detrimental control and influence.

4. Fixtures and the 2022 World Cup

The size of the leagues, when games are played and when the World Cup takes place are issues that are all high on the agenda. If FIFA still has any lingering thoughts of a winter World Cup in 2022 or any other time, they will need to have the approval of the united European leagues.

All Medeiros would say regarding the World Cup situation is that "there is a board meeting in Madrid in two weeks' time". In other words: watch this space.

As for the Champions League, Medeiros says "it has proved to be the crème de la crème of international club competition, which everyone including the fans are happy with. That doesn't mean that, together with UEFA and the clubs, as ever in a constructive fashion, there cannot be room for dialogue on possible means of improving the distribution of revenues and financial solidarity".


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