UEFA has brought the European grassroots football community together in Minsk for its latest Grassroots Conference – and has underlined the crucial importance that the game’s foundations have for its overall well-being and longevity.The three-day event in the Belarusian capital sees UEFA join forces with grassroots managers and grassroots coach education specialists from its 55 member associations, as well as representatives of the world football body FIFA, delegates from UEFA’s fellow continental confederations, and special guests, for an in-depth analysis of the current state of the grassroots sector.The gathering has given UEFA the opportunity to present its own grassroots visions and activities that occupy a priority position within UEFA’s mission – a fact underlined by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin in his welcome message to the Minsk conference.
Grassroots managers and grassroots coach educators from across Europe are in Minsk for the conference.©Sportsfile”Grassroots football is of the utmost importance,” he said. “The slogan ‘Football First’ is at the core of UEFA’s strategy for the coming years – and without healthy grassroots, the game cannot flourish.”Grassroots football is all football that is non-professional and non-elite. This includes, but is not limited to, children’s football, schools and youth football, amateur football, football for disabled players, football for veterans and walking football. In short, grassroots football is football played by the masses at a level where participation and a love of the game are the principle driving forces.
UEFA head of football education services Frank Ludolph©SportsfileUEFA’s head of football education services, Frank Ludolph, summarised the European governing body’s stance on the grassroots game and its positioning within football. “[The role of] grassroots football is to ensure that everybody, everywhere, has the opportunity to play football in a safe and quality-controlled environment,” he said.”Grassroots football is about creating a solid foundation for the game; producing playing opportunities; ensuring respect and equality; uniting people and transcending differences; serving as a vehicle for educational, social and sporting development – and promoting lifelong participation. It plays a crucial social role, and promotes healthy exercise.”UEFA’s grassroots programme is intended to motivate Europe’s national associations to implement philosophies and initiatives that will ensure the future of the game.Through the UEFA Grassroots Charter, a quality mark focusing on grassroots football, UEFA supports and stimulates grassroots football development at national level by setting standards and providing tailored assistance. In addition, each national association receives annual earmarked funding to continually develop and improve their grassroots activities.The UEFA Grassroots Week takes place every September during the European Commission’s European Week of Sport, and aims to encourage and inspire participation in all forms of football.At the same time as the Grassroots Week, excellence in grassroots work is rewarded by the annual UEFA Grassroots Awards, which honour leaders, clubs and projects in Europe for particularly outstanding work.Various departments and bodies across UEFA are involved in grassroots football activity – emphasising an overall vision of ‘One UEFA’, and feeding into the central grassroots strategy. These include UEFA national associations’ business development activities; the HatTrick assistance programme, which ensures earmarked grassroots funding; the women’s football development programme (WFDP); and the UEFA Foundation for Children.Ludolph highlighted the changes that have taken place in society over five decades to emphasise one particular grassroots football challenge. He presented two similar cartoons – one from 1970 showing a mother bringing her child inside the house, and an updated version of the same cartoon from 2019, with the same mother bringing the same child out of the house.”In 1970,” he said, “parents had to persuade their children, who were playing football in the street, to come indoors to eat. In 2019, they have to persuade their children to go outside and be active with a ball, rather than stay inside on their PlayStations. Football is one way of helping children to be active outdoors.”
UEFA grassroots ambassador Per Ravn Omdal©SportsfileUEFA’s grassroots ambassador, Per Ravn Omdal, gave an impassioned address which further underlined why grassroots football must continue to be fostered and promoted.”I have found in my discussions over the years that politicians have acceptance for football because [we] are taking care of children – so many children love football and come together with their friends because of the game.”Football has a significant social impact, because it is also the number-one sport for inclusivity in Europe,” he added.”Everyone can play football – it is an equal game. Football brings positive values into society. It promotes friendliness, openness… and it promotes fun. Everyone is good enough to play football, from the youngest person to the oldest, from those with skills to those who are not so skilled. We have to continue to let the grassroots blossom.”