Today, Tuesday, 15 June 2004, marks an important milestone in the history of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), with the European confederation celebrating its 50th anniversary at its headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, and at EURO 2004 in Portugal.
In a congratulatory letter to UEFA President Lennart Johansson, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter praised the organisation’s many achievements: “Since its foundation, UEFA has helped European football to acquire an enviable reputation. UEFA’s competitions at club and national team level, such as EURO 2004, which has been successfully launched in Portugal, enthral and thrill football fans all around the world. Your organisation can proudly look back upon fifty very successful years.”
On behalf of the FIFA Executive Committee, Blatter also commended UEFA for its help in strengthening the world game: “Countless European experts have passed on their knowledge and experience to people in Africa, Asia and all other parts of the world during FIFA’s development courses, thereby making a telling contribution to the globalisation of the game. Conversely, players from all around the world continue to impress with European clubs.”
UEFA was founded in Basle, Switzerland, on 15 June 1954. Nearly ten years after the end of the Second World War, UEFA’s founders wanted Europe to have an independent body in international football, while also laying the foundations for fruitful cooperation among the members. As UEFA took its first steps, the 1957 Treaty of Rome began to shape what would later become the European Union. At the same time, television began to play an increasingly important role and the Old Continent saw the first positive effects of the economic boom in the post-war years. By creating the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, the predecessor of today’s Champions League, and other club competitions as well as the European Championship, which was first played in 1960 as the European Nations Cup, UEFA also laid the foundations for its successful further development.
During the first five decades of its existence, UEFA has certainly had its fair share of hurdles to overcome. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the shredding of the Iron Curtain irrevocably changed the face of Europe, as did the fall of Yugoslavia and the division of Czechoslovakia. When UEFA was founded in 1954, Europe had twenty fewer states, even though the surface area and population were similar to today. By launching a range of development programmes, some in cooperation with FIFA, UEFA also undoubtedly made a lasting impression in the new Eastern European states and in the Balkans. The tragedy that unfolded ahead of the 1985 final of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup at the Heysel stadium in Brussels also led UEFA to assume a pioneering role in the areas of stadium safety and match organisation.
UEFA is the second oldest confederation, with only CONMEBOL in South America able to look back upon a longer history having been founded in 1916. AFC, the Asian Football Confederation, will also be celebrating its 50th birthday this year. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) was founded in 1957, followed by CONCACAF in 1961 and finally the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) in 1966.