European football’s competitions may be on hold, but the world’s most popular sport still has a frontline role to play in society’s response to COVID-19.
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COVID-19 has temporarily postponed UEFA plans to celebrate 60 years of the EURO with a tournament bridging the entire continent, but the European football community remains more united than ever in its off-the-field response to the pandemic. From Amsterdam to Zagreb, national associations, clubs and players have launched countless initiatives to ensure more people comply with government regulations on social distancing and staying at home.
With the aim of inspiring others, this four-part blog highlights the different ways that football is making a difference across Europe: whether raising funds to purchase medical equipment, producing training videos about staying fit at home, delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable, or using the sport’s enormous reach to deliver vital health messages.
Azerbaijan: putting a smile back on the faces of football fans
In a national campaign to boost the morale of football fans and their families staying at home, Azerbaijan’s professional football league (PFL) is sharing fun photos from domestic league matches on its Instagram channels.
Among clubs, the players, coaching staff and employees at FC Sabah have collected more than €25,000 to support a national coronavirus fund. The club has also produced a video in support of the nation’s doctors and nurses, working day and night to treat patients with COVID-19.
Keşla football club has launched ‘Stay at home, we will come to you’ to encourage local communities to follow social distancing regulations introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As part of the campaign, players, coaches and staff have personally delivered food boxes to 200 families.
Croatia: football stars show how to practise your skills without breaking rules – or windows!
The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) has launched #vježbajdoma or ‘Practise at home’ to help 100,000 youth footballers keep fit and practise new skills without crossing the boundaries of social distance.
Cyprus: food, funds and medicine for elderly people
AEL Limassol FC has partnered with the Kepaky Foundation and local actor Costas Vychas to set up the Yellow Solidarity Helpline for vulnerable groups and elderly people in need of financial support, food and medication. Another Cypriot club, Apollon Limassol FC, has teamed up with a local dietitian to create an emergency food bank.
Czech Republic: ‘I cannot just sit and do nothing’
Michal Sadílek, midfielder for the national Under-21 team and PSV Eindhoven, has donated CZK 500,000 to his hometown hospital in Uherské Hradiště’ to purchase medical equipment as well as to Uničov, a town recently placed in lockdown. "I cannot just sit and do nothing. I would like to support doctors and nurses who have to work hard for all of us now to heal the world," said Sadílek, unable to travel to the Czech Republic because of travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
FK Jablonec and FC Slovan Liberec, local rivals in North Bohemia, are selling tickets for their postponed derby to raise funds for the Liberec hospital. Second division side FC Zbrojovka Brno are selling memorabilia – match programmes, videos, etc. – of their legendary 1996 match against SK Slavia Praha to raise money for the Bohunice hospital. To help coaches and players stay fit while they are isolating at home, the Football Association of the Czech Republic is publishing training videos on the My First Goal platform.
Denmark: coaching library opens doors to every Danish home
Like many national football associations, the Danish Football Association is using its online coaching resources to help people, especially children, keep active when staying at home or needing to social distance. Its skill-based exercises are helpfully divided by age range, and include simple messages promoting good hygiene.
England: football’s staying home
With the help of past and present England players, the English Football Association’s ‘Football’s staying home’ campaign is helping fans cope with staying at home – from providing tips to staying safe and healthy to doing football activities to keep bodies and minds active.
France: Les Bleus support frontline healthcare staff
The French Football Federation (FFF), together with the national team's players and coaching staff, are making a significant donation to France's Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP) to support healthcare staff working on the front lines of the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The contribution will go specifically towards improving the daily lives of caregivers as well as funding research in all French hospitals. The FFF has also reserved 5,000 places at the Stade de France for healthcare staff to watch the national team's first home match once football is able to resume, with another 1,000 tickets available for the women's national team's return to action.
Germany: Bundesliga UEFA Champions League participants show solidarity
Germany’s UEFA Champions League participants – Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern München, RB Leipzig and Bayer 04 Leverkusen – have set up a solidarity fund worth €20 million to help clubs in the Bundesliga and the 2. Bundesliga struggling to cope with the devastating economic consequences of football’s shutdown.
Gibraltar: mobilising on all fronts, from kit managers to the general secretary
From kit managers to the general secretary, the Gibraltar Football Association has mobilised on several fronts: running awareness campaigns, purchasing personal protective equipment for health workers and exploring e-learning courses for children studying at home.
Greece: fans and players donate blood to health service
Veterans of Greece’s UEFA EURO 2004 winning team and current members of the national team are leading a social media campaign in which footballers are asking fans to donate blood to the nation’s health service.
PSAP, Greece’s players’ union, has donated medical material to hospitals in Athens.
Hungary: federation makes donation to frontline organisations
The Hungarian Football Federation, including staff and national team players, has donated over €85,000 to three organisations working on the front lines in the fight to contain COVID-19: the national ambulance service, the children’s catering foundation and Szent László Kórház – a hospital treating many of the country’s COVID-19 patients. The donation was channelled through the Játékidő Alapítvány Foundation run by FSV Mainz 05 striker Ádám Szalai.
Using the motto #csakegyutt or ‘Only together’, national team players have also posted short video messages on Facebook appealing to the public to stay at home to slow the virus’s spread.
Iceland: first the thunderclap, now Áfram Ísland
The Football Association of Iceland has launched a social media campaign called Áfram Ísland or ‘Keeping moving’ to encourage young footballers and their families to keep fit and hone their skills ready for the day when football can safely kick off again. Every day, video clips of training exercises for ten-year-olds are posted on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes they include a personal message from members of the men’s or women’s national teams.
The campaign has received extensive coverage in the national media, with Iceland international Hannes Halldórsson’s training tips proving a big hit with Iceland’s young footballers. Some club sides have released videos of players teaching skills that are easy to practise indoors.
Republic of Ireland: national team stars help League of Ireland players
Republic of Ireland internationals James McClean, Kevin Long and Enda Stevens are among a group of players supporting an emergency fund for League of Ireland players during the coronavirus pandemic.
Italy: Azzurri set #TheRulesOfTheGame for defeating COVID-19
The Italian Football Association (FIGC) is running #TheRulesOfTheGame, a campaign capitalising on the power of football to increase public compliance with 11 critical ‘rules’ essential to containing the spread of COVID-19.
North Macedonia: national team donate to health fund
Members of the Macedonian national football team, together with their support staff, have donated €30,000 to a national health fund supporting hospitals’ efforts to treat COVID-19 patients. " Each of us will help financially in the cities, municipalities and places where we play," said Goran Pandev.
Malta: Football association funds accommodation for health workers
The Malta Football Association (MFA) is using its connections with the local football community to ensure the health ministry can find alternative accommodation for frontline health workers, who often need to isolate to safeguard their families. All costs will be covered through the MFA’s Football For Life social responsibility programme.
Two players from Malta’s national team are also appearing in a daily video produced by the MFA to demonstrate exercises that teenagers and young children can perform indoors. The training classes, designed by physical trainers from Malta’s national football teams, are broadcast on three television networks as well as the MFA’s social channels.
Moldova: virtual derby with Romania raises funds for UNICEF
The Football Association of Moldova (FMF) has teamed up with the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) to stage a PES 20 international efootball match to raise funds in support of UNICEF’s efforts to help Moldova fight the coronavirus. The UN agency will use proceeds from the sale of online tickets to football fans in the two neighbouring countries to purchase personal protection equipment and infrared thermometers for medical staff and social workers.
Montenegro: football funds new equipment for health system
The Football Association of Montenegro, leading football players and a club president have all donated funds to strengthen the public health authorities’ capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.
Netherlands: Who knew there were so many ways to stay fit? The Dutch tell us how
The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) is using its social media channels to share football fans personal take on how to stay fit during isolation. Some Dutch players are also working with the KNVB to set skill-based challenges that footballers of all ages can try at home.
Northern Ireland: Windsor Park serves as COVID-19 testing centre
The national stadium, Windsor Park, will play a frontline role in Northern Ireland’s efforts to constrain COVID-19, following the Irish Football Association's decision to let the health ministry use the venue as a testing centre for the virus. The governing bodies of football, rugby and Gaelic football agreed on 20 March to explore how sport could support the national response to the ongoing global health crisis.
Northern Ireland’s national coach Michael O'Neill published an open letter on the football association’s website appealing to all football fans to follow health guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19. “We can help to keep our loved ones safe by working together in tackling the spread of COVID-19 and following the guidelines issued by the government and the health authorities. It is in everyone’s best interests to do so,” wrote O’Neill.
Norway: footballers show children how to make the most of playing at home
Norway’s leading female and male professional footballers demonstrate how to transform even the smallest garden or room into the perfect training facility. #homeground is a video campaign launched by the country’s leading football channels and media outlet VG to help young footballers train and develop their skills during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Poland: football association announces financial package to help clubs
The Polish FA will allocate a total of €25 million to help men’s and women’s football at all levels survive the economic impact of all domestic football competitions having been put on hold.
Portugal: football funds lifesaving equipment for local hospitals
National team players are helping the Portuguese Football Federation raise funds to purchase medical equipment by revealing their personal experiences of living in isolation. Watch this clip of Bruno Fernandes explaining how he helps his young daughter to fall asleep.
Romania: football stars use popularity to tell expats to stay away
National football stars have added their voices to the Romanian Football Federation’s efforts to persuade compatriots living abroad to slow the COVID-19 pandemic by postponing any plans to travel.
San Marino: football donates to health and civil protection
The San Marino Football Federation has donated €10,000 to the health institute (ISS) and the department for civil protection. Contributions have also been made by the referees association (€5,000), AC Virtus Bolzano (€1,000), AS San Giovanni (€1,000), SS Pennarossa (€1,000) and SS Cosmos (€1,000).
Serbia: football association sets up humanitarian fund
The Football Association of Serbia has appealed to the country’s football community, including players, coaches, referees, sponsors and businessmen, to donate to a humanitarian fund to help fund their nation’s response to COVID-19. All FA employees, from the president down, together with national team players, have made the extraordinary gesture of donating part of their monthly salaries to the fund.
Some €250,000 has already allowed Belgrade's Clinic for Infectious and Tropical Diseases to pay for additional ventilators and medical equipment.
Slovakia: top team supplies 1,000 face masks
Spartak Myjava first team players Ema Nikodémová and Iveta Neveďalová have started to purchase face masks for the town of Myjava. With their help, the town of almost 12,000 inhabitants in the Trenčín region has already distributed nearly 1,000 face masks to people in need – more than half of them for people aged over 80.
Spain: La Liga clubs rally to help their local communities
Real Madrid CF’s historic Santiago Bernabéu stadium is doubling up as a medical supplies centre, while FC Barcelona has offered its facilities to the Catalan government if additional hospital space is needed to cope with COVID-19 cases.
Sweden: association and clubs fund medical equipment for hospitals
Several clubs playing in the Allsvenskan have placed their staff at the disposal of organisations and businesses working to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Switzerland: national players add their voice to #CoroNo
After contracting COVID-19 himself, Swiss Football Association president Dominique Blanc launched #CoroNo from quarantine – a digital campaign promoting public health messages and encouraging more people to stay at home to avoid catching or transmitting the virus.
The association has also published regular video messages from different national team players, each explaining how they are spending their time at home and repeating the Swiss health ministry’s key messages: ‘Stay at home’, ‘Keep your distance from each other’ and ‘We are together in the fight against COVID-19’.
Ukraine: association and clubs fund medical equipment for hospitals
The Ukrainian Association of Football (UAF) has taken a lead role in helping veteran footballers who are self-isolating to stay safe and well. In addition, both the UAF and leading Ukrainian clubs have purchased ventilators, which are critical to help hospitals give life-saving treatment to patients with severe coronavirus infections.
Wales: national stadium to serve as emergency field hospital
The Principality Stadium in Cardiff, which hosts Wales’ national team matches, is being turned into an emergency field hospital, while players from the national team and domestic leagues are using football’s power to help the National Health Service to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.