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Warsaw’s cross-cultural football project gains 2020 UEFA Grassroots award

Etnoliga, an initiative promoting diversity and inclusion in Poland’s capital city, is the 2020 UEFA Grassroots Award winner for Best Grassroots Project.

Etnoliga is a social programme in the Polish capital, Warsaw, which promotes diversity through its annual football league for immigrant communities and looks to support refugees as well as empowering women, LGBT+ and other underprivileged groups.

Set up by the non-profit organisation Foundation for Freedom, or Fundacji dla Wolności, it began in 2005 as a one-off tournament involving asylum-seekers and local youngsters and has developed into a significant cross-cultural sporting initiative.

Since 2010 it has organised an annual league competition for around 20 teams. Players decide on the rules at the start of each season and every team is required to include three men and three women, and players of three different nationalities.

Special focus: Refugee camp activities

Etnoliga promotes diversity through its annual football league
Etnoliga promotes diversity through its annual football league

A member of the UEFA partner Fare network, Etnoliga promotes diversity, inclusivity and understanding, with a particular focus on helping refugee communities. This year, it began a programme of regular activities in the Debak refugee camp south of Warsaw, with the support of Fare and the Chelsea Foundation.

Offering non-formal education and counselling, Etnoliga helps to pass on language skills and cultural information.

Etnoliga’s outstanding work has gained previous recognition, with a place on the shortlists for the Beyond Sport Global Awards in 2017 and the #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards in 2019.

In their own words: ‘Involving refugees in society’

Etnoliga was founded in 2005 to help integrate refugees in Warsaw
Etnoliga was founded in 2005 to help integrate refugees in Warsaw

"The idea behind Etnoliga was born 15 years ago when I took an interest in the fate of refugees in Warsaw and thought that football could be a way of somehow involving them in society," says Etnoliga founder Krzysztof Jarymowicz. I proposed we all play a game, they jumped at the idea, and that's how we organised the first tournament.

"Etnoliga is a place where you can meet people from different countries, get to know their cultural background. We emphasise the fact that it is for both men and women, for everyone, regardless of where they were born, what they believe in, who they are, what they do on a daily basis.”

"We have also tried from the beginning to mediate between refugees and various organisations that provide specialised services to refugees – to connect them, to help them, to show them who can help them."

Best Grassroots Project 2020: Silver and Bronze winners

Silver: Rinus, the online assistant coach (Netherlands)

Rinus is a free online tool developed by the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) for all grassroots coaches in the Netherlands. The app contains exercises, training sessions, multi-week training plans and a video and information library - accessed by around 25,000 coaches per month. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it provided 80,000 coaches with special exercises and training sessions designed to comply with social distancing rules.

Bronze: Football in Prison (Spain)

In 2007, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), in partnership with the Spanish prison service, launched a programme to achieve social integration through football. The RFEF delivers equipment to regional federations who distribute it in turn to prisons, organising sports schools and competitions which are self-managed, with inmates encouraged to act, for example, as referees or committee members. Each prison then selects a team of players who, depending on their situation, can compete against other prisons.

What are the UEFA Grassroots Awards?

UEFA launched the annual Grassroots Awards in 2010 to reward excellence and shine a light on some of European football's unsung heroes.

Each of our 55 national associations are invited to nominate candidates each year, with award winners then selected by UEFA's Executive Committee, following recommendations made by the organisation's Grassroots Panel bureau and Development and Technical Assistance Committee.

Find out more about the UEFA Grassroots Awards

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