"It's great to see the impact it's having," said Lee Tavinder after overseeing the latest training session in UEFA's Captains of Change integration programme.
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Just three months after the staging of the inaugural training sessions for participants, UEFA's innovative Captains of Change programme is already increasing diversity in football at grassroots level.
Lee Tavinder, head of the Irish Football Association (IFA) refereeing team, has staged the last of his three courses, one of which was in the picturesque setting of the Mid-Ulster Sports Complex in Cookstown, Northern Ireland. There, members of the Portuguese community were encouraged to become active in football in the country by attending a refereeing workshop. A group of East Timorese enthusiasts enjoyed an introductory session in futsal.
"Everything they do is great and I've been learning real skills here," said participant Juvito Gutteres, after showing some neat touches on the indoor court during the session. "We enjoy it – the pitches are great and I've never been doing things like these in my life. It's amazing."
It is just one example of the diversity programme reaping rewards across Europe. Captains of Change primarily aims to foster the integration of recognised minority groups into the management of European football, particularly people marginalised on grounds of ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation. In doing so, the target is to create Captains of Change who will ultimately influence the culture of football organisations through the implementation of national and local initiatives. Judging by the smiles on the faces of participants in Cookstown, that process is already underway in Northern Ireland, even before Tavinder's course is complete.
"One of the things that has surprised me about the workshops is the impact they've had," said Tavinder. "I approached it initially on a refereeing basis to give people knowledge on the Laws of the Game and to start bringing referees in from a more diverse background.
"What has actually happened organically is that different parts of the football association are now involved. We've had somebody delivering on futsal, on coaching and on coach education as well, so we can try and upscale the coaches. So this has become far more than just a refereeing programme – it's a full football programme and it's great to see the impact that it's having."
Click on the video player above to see Lee Tavinder's Captains of Change project.