By Mike Collett
ASTANA (Reuters) - The practice of players being owned by secretive agents, businessmen or investment companies out to make a quick buck is not only damaging soccer but is an affront to human dignity and must be halted, UEFA president Michel Platini said on Thursday.
He called on FIFA to outlaw the practice worldwide and praised the English FA for being the first to ban what are called "third party ownership" transfers.
Platini highlighted what he said was one of the greatest threats to the game's integrity when he opened the 38th UEFA Congress in the futuristic capital of the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.
With FIFA president Sepp Blatter sitting in the front row of delegates at the Palace of Independence, Platini said: "If FIFA fails to act, we will address this issue in our own competitions in Europe.
"The UEFA Executive Committee has already adopted a position on this issue in principle, and we will see this through.
"I do not want to be complicit in these practices, and at the moment I have the nasty feeling that I am."
Platini, one of the world's greatest all-time players during his glittering career in the 1970s and 1980s when he won titles with France and Juventus, said he had gone on strike when he was a player, but the issues facing players today were far worse than what he had to endure.
He told delegates from all 54 member associations: "I am thinking, here, of a problem which particularly worries me, that is the third party ownership of players, or TPO as it is sometimes known.
"I have been constantly warning for years that this practice, which is becoming increasingly widespread, is a danger to our sport.
"It threatens the integrity of our competitions, damages football's image, poses a long-term threat to clubs' finances and even raises questions about human dignity.
"When I was a player, I went on strike because players belonged to their clubs and therefore failed to enjoy real freedom.
"Today, players are certainly not the property of their clubs, but something worse is happening instead.
"Increasingly, players are owned by opaque companies based in tax havens and controlled by some unknown agent or investment fund.
"Quite simply, some players are no longer in control of their own sporting careers and are transferred each year to generate revenue for anonymous individuals who just want to get their hands on some of the money in football.
"The English FA were the first to recognize the dangers of this practice and the moral and ethical problems that it poses. As a result they banned third party ownership.
"They acted swiftly and decisively, and I congratulate them on that. However, this is a global problem, and the issue should be regulated at global level."
Turning to the FIFA president, Platini said: "Mr Blatter, you ask things of us, such as solidarity with other continents, and we do as you ask.
"This time, we have something to ask of you. I want to take advantage of your presence here today to make a solemn request. Please have the political courage to deal with this problem once and for all.
"There comes a time when you have to stop hiding behind committees, sub-committees, studies by expert groups and academic reports.
"The amount of money that vanishes into thin air in a single transfer exceeds the entire annual budget for your global solidarity program, GOAL. Do you realize what that means? Do you consider that normal? I, for one, do not."
Platini also said that detailed plans for the new Nations League, a competitive tournament starting in 2018 to replace increasingly unpopular friendly matches, would be announced at the Congress later.
On the occasion of UEFA's 60th anniversary, Platini also announced the launch of a new Children's Foundation, a grass-roots initiative funded by UEFA to boost opportunities for youngsters.
"Who knows?" said Platini. "The next Cristiano Ronaldo could well be growing up in Moldova and we need to do everything we can to encourage the development of all children in the sport."
(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ian Ransom)