The emergence of a golden generation has its roots in a clear three-pronged strategy delivered by the Royal Belgian Football Association.
Article top media content
The Royal Belgian Football Association’s (RBFA) development of the national game, which has seen the men’s national team – nicknamed the Red Devils – reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-finals and the women’s A team rise up the rankings, is guided by a three-pronged approach:
• Increasing the number of people playing football at all levels, especially women
• Improving governance of the game
• Encouraging more fans to support Belgium’s national teams
The World At Our Feet, the association’s strategy for accelerating the growth of women’s football, is already making an impressive impact. Since its launch in 2019, the number of registered female players has doubled to reach 40,000.
There is also a strong gender focus to improving RBFA governance. In 2020, diversity within the organisation grew, both in terms of the number of female staff and employees with different ethnic backgrounds. As part of a great commitment to transparency, the association reduced its board members from 12 to 10, adding two independent members from outside the football industry.
The impressive performances of Belgium’s national teams owe much to the work of the RBFA’s technical department. By investing in the development of football at all levels – grassroots, amateur and professional – the association has significantly increased the pool of available players, and capitalised on new technology to improve the performance of the various national teams.
During the pandemic, the association provided more than €8 million to help clubs cope with the loss of ticket sales and broadcasting revenue; this included temporarily suspending their monthly payments to the RBFA. Efforts were also made to facilitate grassroots football matches and training sessions, while respecting emergency health measures. The RBFA also launched several online initiatives to stay in touch with fans of the national teams.
UEFA’s HatTrick programme, which channels EURO funds into football development across Europe, has helped the RBFA achieve its goal of increasing participation in youth, men's and women's football by supporting the construction of a national training centre that hosts all national teams and technical staff. HatTrick will now finance the addition of a centre of excellence – including a medical centre, auditorium and hotel – to the complex, which is based at Tubize, near Brussels.
The RBFA has also drawn on HatTrick funding to launch social responsibility projects creating more opportunities for people with disabilities to play football, including at grassroots and amateur level. The Nobody Offside project, run jointly with private and public partners, is helping to widen the range of Belgian national teams for players with different disabilities.
UEFA Foundation for Children in Belgium
Set up in 2015, the UEFA foundation uses football as a vehicle to help improve children’s lives by supporting hundreds of campaigns and projects across Europe and around the world.
Scoring for Health
Between 2018 and 2021, the foundation awarded €210,000 to Scoring for Health – an education project encouraging children aged 7–13 years to eat and live more healthily which was supported by professional clubs and foundations in Belgium, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and Ukraine. The initiative was inspired by a UN World Health Organization report which identified unhealthy dietary habits as the primary cause of high levels of obesity in Europe.
As part of Scoring for Health, stadiums and football academies organised launch events, often involving first-term players, for 20-week school programmes, each focused on eating habits, cooking, football and physical exercise. Over two-and-a-half years, some 3,200 boys and girls at 160 schools in eight cities received diplomas, often from football players, after completing the course.
1895: Official formation of the Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football-Association / Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond.
1895/96: Debut of Belgium's first annual football championship.
1904: The Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) becomes one of the seven founding members of FIFA. Belgian Louis Mühlinghaus is the organisation’s first secretary and treasurer.
1954: National association member José Crahay receives a key role in the newly formed governing body of European football, UEFA.
1972: Belgium host UEFA EURO 1972, then a week-long tournament (14–18 June) involving four finalists: Belgium, Hungary, the Soviet Union and West Germany. The hosts are defeated by eventual champions West Germany in the semi-finals, but claim a creditable third place with a 2-1 victory over Hungary.
1992: The RFBA receives the prestigious FIFA Fair Play Trophy, recognition of its support for the Casa Hogar charity to help street children in Toluca, Mexico. National team players helped set up the charity by donating part of their tournament bonuses from the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
2000: Belgium, together with the Netherlands, co-hosts UEFA EURO 2000. Four Belgian cities – Brussels, Bruges, Charleroi and Liege – stage matches at the finals.
2016: The association opens a national training centre at Tubize, near Brussels to help nurture talented youth players. The centre hosts all RFBA national teams as well as technical staff.
1920: Belgium’s national team, known as the Red Devils, win their first international honour – gold at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp.
1930: Belgian referee John Langenus takes charge of the inaugural FIFA World Cup final – an indication of the Belgian's standing in world football.
1977: The national team claim the UEFA European Under-18 Championship, laying the foundations for a period of sustained success for the senior side.
1980: Belgium reach the final of EURO 1980 in Italy, only succumbing to a last-minute goal in a 2-1 defeat to West Germany.
1982–2002: Belgium qualify for six consecutive FIFA World Cup finals – a run that started with the 1982 tournament in Spain and included a notable semi-final defeat to eventual winners in Mexico in 1986.
2014: After a 12-year absence, Belgium return to a major final tournament, qualifying under coach Marc Wilmots for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The so-called Golden Generation – a talented group of players who took Belgium to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2007, are eliminated in the quarter-finals.
2016: The Red Devils also reach the last eight of UEFA EURO 2016 in France.
2017: The women's national team qualify for their first-ever major tournament, UEFA Women's EURO 2017 in the Netherlands. Belgium finish third in a group which includes the tournament’s two finalists, the Netherlands and Germany.
2018: Now coached by Roberto Martinez, Belgium’s men’s team make a second appearance in a FIFA World Cup semi-final, but once again fall short with defeat to tournament winners France.
Date of birth: 6 January 1979
Association president since: 2019
Date of birth: 11 May 1966
Association CEO since: 2018