UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin and some of Europe’s most famous football legends joined schoolchildren at a special UEFA Football in Schools event on the Croatian island of Hvar.
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UEFA and the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) gave 80 teenage schoolchildren a dream chance to test their skills against European legends of the game at a football festival on the island of Hvar on Tuesday.
Local legend Zvonimir Boban and Nadine Kessler, UEFA’s chiefs of football and women's football respectively, teamed up with Luís Figo, Davor Šuker, Dejan Savićević, Darijo Srna and Robbie Keane, as well as UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, to play a series of fun and emotional matches with the teenagers, aged 12–13 years-old.
The event, called "Football for all", brought together Hvar schoolchildren and children from Split who live with Down's syndrome, highlighting football's power to unite communities around common values such as inclusion, respect and kindness.
Aleksander Čeferin, UEFA President
"Football goes far beyond national teams and clubs’ competitions. It is UEFA’s mission to promote the game at all levels, including grassroots. Today, we witnessed great football, the football that we like to see. It is more than sport, it is love."
The initiative also put the floodlights on UEFA’s Football in Schools development programme – a four-year, Europe-wide initiative designed to promote the benefits of teaching children football’s values - fair play, respect, teamwork and leadership – as well as encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle.
The programme has attracted support from schools, parents and kids across Europe, with over 2.4 million children taking part through 45 national associations. More than 44’000 schools and over 100,000 teachers have signed up to the initiative.
Nadine Kessler, UEFA chief of women's football
"Football in Schools is a crucial programme for grassroots development. It has a concrete and direct impact on the local community, as kids’ smiles showed today. It is also a real opportunity for them to get involved in football early on,"
Frank Ludolph, UEFA head of technical development
"Grassroots football is non-elite and non-professional. It is crucial to encourage and inspire already in the school environment - making it a positive experience and creating links with clubs."
What is the UEFA Football in Schools programme?
Alongside coach education and club development, Football in Schools is a key component of UEFA's Grassroots Football Charter. From 2020 to 2024, European football's governing body will channel €11 million in funding to support the initiative – one quarter of the total €44 million that UEFA will invest in supporting grassroots football.
The programme is one example of how UEFA draws on revenue from its European Championships to fund football projects across Europe through its HatTrick development project.
UEFA Football in Schools: Croatia
- Four grassroots project coordinators
- More than 30 grassroots clubs: 16 of 21 country associations
- 188 participating schools
- 1,855 male and 408 female participants
- 18 county-wide tournaments held before the semi-national championship
- Four regional semi-national championships, and one national championship competition
UEFA Football in Schools 2020–24: Europe (projected numbers)
- Associations investing in school football: 55
- Children taking part: 2.8 million+
- Schools running activities: 81,000+
- Teachers trained: 63,000+
- Total investment: €24m +
- UEFA investment: €11m+
- National associations: €6.5m+
- Governments and other institutions: €6.5m+
How else is the HNS investing in grassroots football?
1. UEFA Playmakers programme
The HNS recently completed its first season participating in the UEFA Playmakers project, a sports initiative encouraging young girls aged between five and eight to play football by delivering a fun and safe introduction to learning the game through movement, play and the magic of Disney storytelling.
In its first year of implementation, the HNS programme delivered across the field: 80 per cent of the girls who came to Playmakers sessions had never previously played football, while approximately 10 per cent have progressed to join local girls' football clubs. A new season of Playmakers kicks off in Croatia this month, with 10 training sessions based on the Disney movie Frozen 2, followed in spring 2023 by sessions based on Moana.
2. Plazma Youth Sports Games 2022
Since 1996, Croatia has hosted the Plazma Youth Sports Games, the largest amateur sports event for children and young people in Europe. In the past 25 years, more than two million children have taken part.
Supported by the UEFA Foundation for Children, the Games are held across three countries (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia) and feature 10 sporting disciplines promoting healthy lifestyles, friendship and fair play. In 2022, the Youth Sports Game brought together 230,000 children from Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
3. New training pitches
Investing in infrastructure for the future is crucial for the steady growth of Croatian football. The HNS is drawing on HatTrick funds to roll out new training pitches for grassroots clubs in each of the nation's 21 counties.
"We are investing revenue generated by UEFA's European Championship into a long-term project that will ensure each of Croatia's 21 counties has at least five new quality training pitches," said HNS president Marijan Kustić.
To date, the HNS has funded the construction of 16 pitches in 14 counties with each of the remaining seven expected to complete at least one new surface by the summer of 2023.
By reducing pitch maintenance costs for smaller clubs and allowing training and matches to continue throughout Croatia's cold, wet winters, the new infrastructure is expected to significantly boost grassroots participation.