TG_12 min Bosnia
Bosnia and Herzegovina: throughout the 1990s a country affected by conflict, conflict fuelled by differences in race and religion. These differences have all been forgotten for a group of youngsters, however, thanks to the Open Fun Football Schools Project. A concept devised by the Cross Cultures Project Association in 1998, it is the brainchild of Anders Levinsen, a former footballer who saw football as a way of uniting Bosnian Croats, Muslims and Serbs, and moving towards peace.
Anders Levinsen 1
What inspired me to set up the football schools came from when I was living here, in Bosnia, during the war. What we learned was that if we wanted to use the relief pro-actively... then there was something that was more important than food and shelter and medicine and water, and that was actually that people could communicate. We saw that as soon as the war came to the country, how war divided people, and how the situation got tense, roadblocks came up, and telephone lines were switched off, and people could not go on the roads. Stories were being told of what atrocities were happening down the road, and so on. And so actually the most important thing in this emergency that we were in, was actually to go on the road, to make people move, so they could tell the stories, and talk to people from the other side, and get the right things.
Munir Talovic 1
Nothing good came out of the war. Simply, it is not worth mentioning any aspects which might be considered positive to come from it. All the war brought was bad. If we project that onto football, we can see that there was a big hole left at our professional football clubs, because when players should have been developed the war was going on, so it was impossible for them to play, and now we feel it has left an empty space.
Zeljko Lojanica 1
The first year of the Open Fun Football Schools was not really successful. For example, I can still remember there were kids from Konjević Polje where refugees had just started coming back. And then, of course, those who wanted to obstruct the project created different barriers, such as dressing those children differently from everyone else, and not giving them enough sandwiches. For example, children from Bratunac, where you could find some radical streams - I needed to protect those kids. That is why today you can find Bosniak children there. What followed is that simply you could see that authorities of both sides came together as one. They made a coalition, and that showed me that we were right, from the first moment. From that moment, I knew we were right all along. It proved that all of the things that happened during the war were purely one big nonsense.
During the whole period of the war, grassroots football in Bosnia and Herzegovina came to a halt - and it was down to schemes like the Open Fun Football Schools Project to get youngsters back out on the fields and streets, playing with their friends.
Munir Talovic 2
Regarding football, it was not a case that nobody was interested in playing, but more a case that nobody even thought of going out onto the streets and fields to play football, because it was very dangerous. Of course, when the Open Fun Football Schools first showed up, it was in the safe areas, where it was possible and safe to gather children. And then this hidden wish, which was hidden by the war, slowly came through – a wish to socialise and to play sports, and it spread to all the places which were the major conflict areas – and this is the major contribution of this school.
Anders Levinsen 2
We have set as our target, that we would like to go into former conflict areas with the aim to bring people together through something they have in common. And we have specialised in this concept here, where we create a meeting point. So we are operating mainly in Europe, and we have had the privilege to be a partner of UEFA since 2001, and they have given us fantastic support, both financially, but also morally. And you have seen how football has developed over the past decade, especially the strategic approach of UEFA over the past five years in grassroots football, has been a huge benefit for us. We have benefitted hugely from them.
Munir Talovic 3
The beginning in any project is always tough. It is the same in managing grassroots projects. It was really difficult to get people involved, especially due to the fact that that the first step always involves work on a voluntary basis. And then there were some organisational difficulties. But later it was much easier because the love and enjoyment for the game was woken up – not only of the youngsters who are playing, but also those who are organising it. When they see that their project is succeeding, then everyone is happy, and this is bonding them. That is why you can see so many coaches here and many people who are managing different things. And when you see all of this all over Bosnia and Herzegovina, knowing that no-one is paid - or if they are, it is symbolic - then this means that all of them do it for love, and that kind of love is gained by participating in projects like this. So, the beginning was a bit tough, but now it is expanding more and more.
This expansion has seen a rise from relatively humble beginnings in 1998, when Levinsen and his team first started working in Bosnia and Herzegovina at 12 schools, with 2,254 boys and girls and 189 voluntary coaches. Now with the help of UEFA funding, the project has expanded to involve 750 schools across the whole of the Balkan region and beyond. Around 150,000 youngsters and 13,000 coaches now take part in the training sessions every week.
Dusko Petrovic 1
We do not do standard training sessions, and this is what makes it interesting. Because usually in sports clubs there are matches being played and training sessions being held, where usually around 20 kids are present. Now you have a chance to see a huge number of children, playing in a total of 12 groups. There are around 200 children. So it is a very impressive image, and people who see this for the first time are really surprised. I use similar principles from work in my school, and over the last four or five years it has shown very good results.
Irina Radanja 1
One training session starts with warming up, and everyone being divided into 12 groups, where children can do different exercises, which makes this school special. Because, it is not only football that it is important, but playing, having fun, and that the children are happy, and finally find themselves either playing football or some other sport that they are talented at. We have different groups where different sports are played, for example volleyball, football, basketball, field hockey and even dance - many different exercises, which children can try out and find themselves doing. They can do what they like the most, and what they find most interesting at that time.
Omar Ibrismovic 1
What fulfils me the most is to see a happy and smiling child - when a child is cheerfully coming to the training session and going home happy with a smile on their face. That means that I have succeeded with the training, and that a child had fun. That is when I am the happiest too.
Aleksa Cvejetanovic 1
The coaches are great! We meet new friends and we get along with them well. The trainers show us some new skills. They tell us how we should play, and then they teach us how to shoot the right way. We hang out, travel to other cities, and get different gifts and presents, and so on.
The seeds that were planted by the Open Fun Football Schools Project have already begun to bear fruit, with players moving onto clubs in some of Europe's biggest leagues.
Omar Ibrismovic 2
In men's football we can already see that our players have started to have success abroad. And some of the young players who started in our schools already play in leagues like the German Bundesliga. I think Edin Džeko, who was one of my players, plays in the Bosnian Premier Liga, and he made his first steps in our Open Fun Football School.
Munir Talovic 3
The biggest success of the grassroots projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that they are becoming more and more popular. All of the grassroots schemes have become massive projects out of individual smaller ones. And one of UEFA's aims is of course to have more and more participants taking part, no matter if it is in women's football, junior football, veterans, and so on. Therefore one of the biggest successes is that today, on a pitch like the one here, we can gather 300 or 400 girls, which was unimaginable before. Traditionally, girls have never played football in this area, and we still do not know of any clubs where boys and girls officially play together. But slowly, this is happening more often, and I think that the greatest success of this project is that the numbers participating now are massive. The project will definitely produce other qualities and achievements, but I find this the biggest achievement so far.
Sulejman Sinanovic 1
Anders Levinsen is a person we all owe our gratitude to, all stakeholders here in the Balkans, where this project means a lot. We know that 11 or 12 years ago it would have been very difficult to even think of founding such a school, because of multi-ethnic principals. Today we have the opposite problem - not enough schools! We have many more requests to organise these schools. This is the biggest achievement of Anders Levinsen and his colleagues.
Anders Levinsen 3
In the very beginning, I was extremely proud whenever we took in people from across the lines. But when you see the pitch today - we give the children uniforms, we give them the same t-shirt, they get a UEFA cap, they have a UEFA drinking bottle. We cannot see who is Serb or who is Muslim or Croat. So for us, I must honestly say, I have become totally colour-blind in this project. But, then I look more at the technical part of it, and I think what really drives these people must be the quality of the games, the quality of the organisation... and so today, of course I am happy, and I find it hard to believe that we have become so big... but I feel only like a little piece in this game, and all the important pieces are the coaches and the volunteers that are involved and committing themselves to this. This, I am proud of.
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