Caring for football's foundations and exchanging ideas and know-how on how to reinforce the work being done are focal points of this week's UEFA Grassroots Workshop in Ljubljana.
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Football's essential soul is found in its grassroots, where the beautiful game opens welcoming arms to everyone who wants to take part.
Tending these grassroots is a key element of UEFA's mission, and is currently in the spotlight in Ljubljana, with the latest UEFA Grassroots Workshop examining how to nurture football’s foundations and strengthen their evolution.
The objective of the workshop in the Slovenian capital is the exchanging of information and expertise among grassroots managers from UEFA's 54 member associations about developments across Europe, while also sharing examples of best practice. The aim is also to discuss new ideas and activities which can be implemented, in particular at national level, and how grassroots football can be marketed and promoted in an increasingly effective manner.
Grassroots football is one of UEFA's 11 core values, namely: "Football is based on the grassroots, played everywhere, by men and women, boys and girls … UEFA will continue to deliver the wider benefits that our sport brings to society.” UEFA also promotes the belief that football unites people and transcends differences, and serves as a crucial vehicle for educational, social and sporting development, as well as providing health benefits and personal fulfilment."
The following sectors are included in grassroots football – children's football (girls and boys); schools' football; amateur football (women and men); beach soccer/futsal; recreational football; veterans' football; community football and disability football.
"All football which is non-professional/non-elite is part of grassroots football," says UEFA. "It is football for all, irrespective of size, shape, colour or faith." The European body also understands the important link between the grassroots and the elite game. The latter, it stresses, cannot flourish without healthy foundations at the base.
UEFA recognises quality grassroots work across Europe. All of its member associations have signed the UEFA Grassroots Charter, launched in 2004. The charter underlines the importance of non-professional and non-elite football, as well as the values of grassroots football.
UEFA encourages its member associations to reinforce grassroots programmes, and signing the charter means that a country has satisfied certain minimum criteria. Delegates in Ljubljana heard about the charter's ongoing restructuring to include a series of new criteria, which focus in particular on growth, recruitment and retention, coach education and fair play.
In addition, outstanding grassroots work is honoured through the UEFA Grassroots Awards, which are presented each year to the best leaders, clubs and projects around Europe. Every year, the joy of football for all is also celebrated in UEFA's Grassroots Week, in which a wealth of activities are staged throughout many European countries.
UEFA's chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu emphasised in Ljubljana just how impressed the body is by the dedicated and professional work being put in across the continent by those who care for football's roots. "The dynamic character of this field makes grassroots football certainly one of the most interesting areas of UEFA," he reflected, "and we will definitely continue to focus on and invest in its development."
Lupescu added that the grassroots sector of football was fascinating because it reflected society, and adapted to society’s challenges. "For example, some countries are confronted with the aging of their population," he said. “As a reaction, several member associations have developed flexible solutions to make football easily accessible to adult players, and have launched new rules to make sure that even older players can continue enjoying our beautiful game.
"The importance of including every single person that wants to play led us to the title of this year's workshop: 'Football for Life'. In my eyes, this underlines the importance of adapting football to every single player that wants to be part of it. Each player should have the opportunity to be involved in the game in the role that he or she prefers: player, coach, referee, volunteer or administrator."
In addition to practical sessions, round-table discussions and infdormal exchanges, no less than 24 national associations are highlighting a wide variety of grassroots activities in Ljubljana – "which also demonstrates the excellent development level of our member associations," said Lupescu.
"And it underlines the great evolution of grassroots football in the recent years. Grassroots educational events like this one are important for the further development of the UEFA Grassroots Charter and the promotion of the grassroots game in Europe."