A sporting and social legacy is being created at UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 in Serbia – with children very much at the heart of a wide range of events that will leave a long-term mark.
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Hitting the UEFA Futsal EURO button on UEFA.com opens windows on the thrills, emotions, colour and spectacular match action that adds up to a memorable final tournament watched by record-breaking crowds.
But how can you make sure that the 12-day, 20-match spectacle does not become a fire that burns brightly and then simply flickers out. How can you keep the flames alive? This was the challenge facing UEFA and the national association of Serbia when they joined forces to organise the event in Belgrade.
"The objective has been to create a sporting and social legacy – and this was something that I relished, because I identify very closely with UEFA's philosophy in this matter," commented Pierre Lienhard, UEFA's project manager at UEFA Futsal EURO 2016.
The result has been a wide range of events triggered by the final tournament in Belgrade – but interlocked with longer-term projects such as the nationwide My School, My Club campaign conducted by the Football Association of Serbia (FSS), with backing from the ministry for youth and sports and the ministry of Education.
"Our project has focused clearly on children," Lienhard explains. "We set up a programme of collaboration with primary schools, linked to cooperation with TV stations in four major cities – Belgrade, Kragujevac, Nis and Novi Sad. The interaction with the media has been a key factor, because we set out to address social issues such as gender equality and sustainability, along with the principles of fair play and the development of futsal at grassroots level."
"At the same time, we have supported one of the core principles of the UEFA Foundation for Children by including underprivileged children in the project."
Huge numbers of the visitors to the Belgrade Arena have been pausing to look at a collection of photographs that reflect conditions at the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, where the UEFA foundation has embarked on a football-inspired project to make life more bearable for the children living at the camp
The visitors have included organised visits by schoolchildren who have been involved in the legacy and sustainability projects that UEFA has pegged to Europe's premier futsal event.
Among them was a group of 40 young pupils from the Dositej Obradović school – one of the eight institutions from the Novi Sad area who participated in the UEFA project.
There was a good deal of discussion and banter about which of the photographs made the most impact. Goran, one of the youngsters who had travelled in with the group, spoke for many when he commented: "There is a photograph with a bicycle that I liked very much. I would love to meet those children and to play football with them."
One of the salient features of the programme has been a grassroots futsal tournament initially played at schools on a basis of rewarding fair-play ratings, rather than result-orientated 'winners'. One of the rules of the competition has been that at least two girls had to be on the field of play at any given time.
The culmination has been a three-hour final tournament involving almost 700 Under-12 boys and girls from the four regions, played at the venue for UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 – the 11,400-capacity Belgrade Arena.
On the educational side, teachers and the media have highlighted the sustainability guide based on facts and figures related to environment-protection issues in everyday life – with children contributing the drawings that appear in the printed guide. Teachers have also incorporated material supplied by the UEFA foundation to raise awareness of current social issues, such as the situation of children in refugee camps.
"It has been important," says Lienhard, "to associate the Futsal EURO with social, economic and environmental topics so that the tournament can leave a legacy and provide a platform on which the Serbian FA can continue to build in cooperation with an even wider range of stakeholders."