"The best grassroots conference ever" – one reaction to the UEFA Grassroots Workshop in Slovenia, which has taken the European game's crucial foundations on to another level.
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European grassroots football is blossoming apace, judging by results and reactions from last week's UEFA Grassroots Workshop in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
UEFA and its 54 national associations carried out a full examination of the state of play in this crucial sector, with a record 24 associations presenting their grassroots programmes and visions. They ranged from children's football through disability and blind football, diversity and fair play at grassroots level, and football and health, to educating grassroots coaches and national recruitment and retention drives.
The workshop also included two practical training and skills sessions – one involving the ZNK Radomlje women's football club, and the other featuring children aged between six and ten from a football school in Ljubljana, who showed off their nascent skills.
UEFA presented its own grassroots visions, including the revamping of its ambitious Grassroots Charter which recognises national associations for the quality of their own grassroots work, and the 2015 UEFA Grassroots Awards winners were honoured for the excellence of their work in a ceremony on the opening day.
Frank Ludolph (UEFA head of football education services)
"We ticked the boxes in Ljubljana, and the Slovenian FA did a fantastic job as hosts. We learned from each other, and we all moved forward, in particular with the Grassroots Charter activities and respective national grassroots programmes. Consequently, we are entering a new phase of development.
"The Grassroots Charter and its various pillars were a key topic. We are showing the associations the way forward for the future, and giving them new ideas on how to shape these pillars at national levels.
"We could also feel that the gap between the associations is getting smaller and smaller, and that is a very good sign. There is a lot of expertise now across Europe. The grassroots are increasingly important, especially in the light of the GROW 2020 programme [in which UEFA is offering long-term support in helping FAs implement effective marketing strategies to boost football in their own countries]. The associations need to have a clear plan, and GROW 2020 is helping them to take the next steps in promoting their grassroots activities."
Per Ravn Omdal, UEFA grassroots ambassador
"I think that this was the best grassroots conference ever. I was so impressed with the substance of the event, and what the associations are bringing to the table.
"I'm delighted that we are focussing on grassroots growth. There is an ocean from which to take inspiration in terms of girls' and boys' participation, and getting people of 40, 50, 60 and even 90 years of age involved in football.
"I have spent some considerable time in my football life dealing with politicians at UEFA and national levels. Politicians at all levels appreciate football. Why? Because we take care of the children. We add a phenomenal value to society which schools and families and parents couldn't do alone.
"Grassroots football is such a vital part of the game, and this has been taken on board by UEFA and its 54 member associations. We can build even further … and we must always try to do better."