Spotlight on grassroots

The latest UEFA Grassroots Newsletter focuses on changes to the UEFA Grassroots Charter and honours those who were nominated for UEFA Grassroots Day Awards.

2014 UEFA Grassroots Day in Albania
2014 UEFA Grassroots Day in Albania ©FShF

This year marks the tenth anniversary of UEFA's comprehensive drive to promote grassroots football across Europe. The latest edition of the UEFA Grassroots Letter looks at the work being undertaken to tend the vital foundations of the game, and heralds those rewarded by UEFA for their sterling contributions through the UEFA Grassroots Day Awards.

UEFA's philosophy is clear – without healthy roots, the higher levels of football cannot flourish. Europe's top footballers were all grassroots players themselves, at youth and schools levels, and even playing with friends on fields or playgrounds. Football is open to all – young and old, male and female – and together with the national associations, the European governing body is striving tirelessly to ensure that everyone can share in the joy of the game at whatever standard they feel comfortable.

The Grassroots Newsletter explains how UEFA's grassroots vision took on a strong shape with the launching of the Summer of Grassroots Football in 2004, with the objective of engaging large numbers of players and reinforcing communication between UEFA and its member associations. The concept's popularity saw the number of participants declared to UEFA rise from 500,000 to 4.6 million in five years.

In 2009, the decision to move the UEFA Champions League final from Wednesday to Saturday had a knock-on effect and brought changes, with the birth of UEFA Grassroots Day. Since then, this celebration of the grassroots game has taken place in the week leading up to UEFA's showpiece club occasion, with national associations across the continent staging their own grassroots events and amply demonstrating football's special attraction, in particular among the younger generation.

"The evolution of the Summer of Grassroots Football into the UEFA Grassroots Day symbolises UEFA's approach to the promotion of the game at all grassroots levels," the newsletter says. "There has been constant questioning, a constant desire to review and improve, a constant commitment to looking for better ways of offering support to national associations, and no time for resting on laurels."

Another memorable event in 2004 was the launching of the Grassroots Charter, which was conceived with the idea of motivating and supporting national associations in upgrading their grassroots activities. The charter has proved to be a resounding success with its system of stars for levels of association work and action, and the time has come to further develop its objectives. Consequently, the charter now features three levels of recognition – bronze for basic grassroots programmes, silver for advanced level and gold for associations who put top-notch grassroots programmes into place, in accordance with UEFA's benchmarks.

The newly defined UEFA Grassroots Charter will come into force in July this year, and the Grassroots Newsletter gives an in-depth analysis on how the charter will work in the coming years and further encourage the associations to fine-tune their grassroots policies and activities. "The simplified criteria have been honed down to prioritise the basic concepts of grassroots activities," the newsletter says. "Does the national association under review have a focus on increasing the number of registered players? Are specific efforts being made to retain players as they approach adulthood? Does the association operate an inclusive and comprehensive grassroots programme which effectively provides footballing opportunities for everyone?

"The revised criteria for charter assessments have been gathered under five headings: Growth, Retention, Education, Always Fair Play and Terms – and the capital letters have been used to show that the initials add up to GREAT. Which is why the charter is now being implemented under the slogan of helping national associations to go 'from good to GREAT'."

"We have the best product in the world but we must continually refine it and adapt it to future needs," says UEFA grassroots ambassador Per Ravn Omdal. "All over Europe, coaches and leaders are organising football activities for millions of boys and girls, every day, year after year. UEFA's new Grassroots Charter will stimulate participation from all age groups even further, as well as improve quality in education and training."

Finally, the Grassroots Newsletter pays homage to the winners of the 2014 UEFA Grassroots Day Awards which honour the best leaders, clubs and projects around Europe for their excellence. Tributes are also paid to the other nominees, because, as the newsletter righty explains: "Simply publishing a list of the winners does scant justice to the large number of very worthy nominees.

"In other words, there's more to the awards concept than the awards themselves. The sheer diversity among the contenders translates into tributes to the people and organisations who, in different ways, are the lifeblood of grassroots football in a wide range of European countries."