Mention UEFA to the average man or woman in the street and their first thoughts will most likely be the UEFA Champions League. Far fewer are aware of the many schemes and events organised by European football's governing body and the national associations, to aid the grassroots level, without which the elite could not exist.
What is grassroots football, you may ask? Put at its most basic level, it would be best described as all football that is non-professional and non-elite. Examples include children's football, school or youth football, amateur football, football for disabled players, even football for veterans. In short, it is the football played by the masses at a level where participation and a love of the game are paramount.
As part of its attempts to ensure that the grassroots flourish around Europe, UEFA set up the UEFA Grassroots Charter in 2005. The project was devised as a tool for upgrading grassroots programmes, and for evaluating and rewarding UEFA's 53 member national associations for their grassroots work using criteria that they have to achieve to gain membership. A total of 51 associations are now members, with the others in the evaluation process, and a major part of UEFA's work involves motivating, stimulating and supporting them in consolidating these activities.
Associations enter at a basic level, which they get for satisfying the minimum criteria, and then additional recognition is given in relation to specific grassroots areas. These include the nurturing of women's and girls' football, social programmes including disability football, the number of participants, and the promotion of grassroots football. Those who have highly developed programmes reach the Superior level, while those who set the benchmark are classed as Premier level.
Many associations have been aided in their grassroots schemes thanks to support from UEFA's HatTrick programme which encourages investment in social and grassroots projects such as mini-pitches.
Mini-pitches have been a particular success story, allowing youngsters the chance to play football whenever they want. Many were built as part of the UEFA Jubilee project celebrating the European body's 50th birthday, in which each UEFA member association received a financial contribution to build a number of mini-pitches. Some countries, such as Germany and Norway, now have as many as 1,000 and 1,500 respectively.
Another scheme to be born out of the Jubilee celebrations in 2004 was the Summer of Grassroots Football. In June, July and August of that year, and every year since, UEFA has worked with the national associations to highlight grassroots football through various activities all over Europe, be it tournaments for young players, football schools or summer camps. In the six years since its launch, more than 14 million participants have been involved in the events associated with the campaign.
UEFA has also used big matches such as the UEFA Champions League final and its national competitions such as UEFA EURO 2008™ to focus attention on the grassroots sector, with fun parks and activities such as Young Champions giving youngsters the opportunity to meet and even play alongside their heroes. With all of its efforts in this area, UEFA is committed to securing healthy grassroots and a bright future for the game.
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