Five nominees from across Europe are celebrating winning UEFA Grassroots Awards thanks to their commitment and dedication to the game.
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Winners from Belgium, Germany, Moldova, Scotland and Spain have been honoured in the 2021/22 UEFA Grassroots Awards.
The awards recognise outstanding work below the elite levels of the game, shining a spotlight on projects, clubs and national associations that are raising the standards of grassroots football and providing an important contribution to the communities around them.
Despite ongoing challenges owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been another stellar year for nominations, with 90 candidates whittled down to gold, silver and bronze winners in each of the five categories.
The UEFA Grassroots Awards have been running since 2010, with 111 award winners from 40 national associations now recognised.
Aleksander Čeferin, UEFA president:
"Selecting the winners of the UEFA Grassroots Awards is always an enjoyable and inspiring task. It highlights the impressive, inclusive, and noteworthy projects of national associations and clubs across the continent, whose influence often sways beyond sports.
"Congratulations to the winners, and I wish you and all the nominees even more future success as you continue to forge these outstanding projects that have an essential impact on the game's growth and your communities."
Maxwell Scherrer, UEFA chief of football development:
"It is UEFA's mission to ensure that everybody who wants to play football can do so in a safe and enjoyable environment. The Grassroots Awards are our opportunity to recognise the fantastic work being done by our national associations in making the game fun, inclusive and accessible for everyone, creating lasting friendships and a lifelong love of our sport."
The 2021/22 UEFA Grassroots Awards winners
Best Amateur Club: IK Dien (Belgium)
Founded in 1924, Ik Dien, located in Edegem, take the gold award for their commitment to the local community, providing grassroots football for men, women, boys and girls, as well as staging their own Rainbow Month to promote diversity and equality among its 800 members.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the game across Europe, Ik Dien (which translates as "I serve") has worked to offer playing opportunities to people of all ages, organising walking football programmes for veterans and youth initiatives for young players. The club has also placed a strong emphasis on the development of girls’ football by taking part in the UEFA Playmakers scheme and organising its own girls' football festivals.
Sandra Aznar, Ik Dien board member:
"It's a club to be proud of. Everybody is welcome regardless of their age, gender, talent, skin tone or religion. We train to win but we play for fun – fair play is one of our key values. [To win the UEFA Grassroots Award] is a great achievement and recognition for all the hard work done for almost 100 years."
Best Professional Club: Athletic Bilbao (Spain)
Through its academy and community work, Athletic Bilbao has developed a comprehensive child protection and safeguarding policy, enabling the protection of all young people in the club's care.
Athletic's Aterpe (Basque for "shelter") programme, which enables a safe environment for players, ballboys and girls, and player escorts, includes preventive elements, staff training and action protocols, with special attention to caring for children in vulnerable social situations. Athletic works with more than 150 grassroots clubs in the surrounding region, supporting them with training, medical and financial assistance.
Aitor Elizegi, president, Athletic Club:
"This programme is fundamental to Athletic Club – it's our foundation. It's everything that Athletic is about – a trust in youth, a trust in society - it's a necessity and value. We try to turn our words into reality. It's not always easy, but Athletic is committed to this and we thank UEFA for taking notice of this effort."
Best Participation Initiative: Football in Schools (Moldova)
The Football in Schools initiative is the main pillar of the Football Association of Moldova (FMF) strategy, benefiting more than 11,000 students and over 400 teachers so far, with the aim of reaching 45,000 children by 2024.
By offering specialist football classes and renovating pitches and surrounding infrastructure, the FMF is creating opportunities for children to grow up in a happy and healthy environment, as well as being more engaged at school.
Diana Bulgaru, grassroots manager, FMF:
"Through sports and through football especially, we can achieve a lot. It helps us to provide a healthy lifestyle in our country and has a great impact on the development of children, their qualities in social life and psychologically. We want to give everyone the opportunity to play football, not only in the big cities of our small country. We're very proud to be the winners of the UEFA Grassroots Awards, and an example for other national football associations."
Best Disability Initiative: Scottish Para-Football (Scotland)
Scottish Para-Football was created in 2019 as the world's first disability football national association. Following investment from the Scottish FA, it brings together nine different organisations governing different types of disability football - amputee football, cerebral palsy football, deaf football, frame football, learning disability football, autism football, football memories, mental health football and powerchair football – under a single national umbrella. The result is more access and facilities for disabled people, ensuring more players are taking up the game and being physically active.
Ian Maxwell, chief executive, Scottish FA:
"We were absolutely delighted to establish the world's first Para-Football Association and ensure that opportunities are available for all. Very simply, we want to make sure that everybody that wants to play football, watch football, write about football or referee football can do so. You don’t do it for awards but when something like this comes along and you're recognised by UEFA as best in class across Europe then it's a terrific achievement for the association and everyone who's played their part in that."
Best Social Initiative: Discover Football (Germany)
Discover Football uses football to fight for girls', women's and LGBTQI+ rights, advocating for a world in which anyone can practice sport without the threat of discrimination. Founded by a group of committed football enthusiasts, the NGO organises a biennial football festival, as well as international exchanges, conferences, workshops, seminars and tournaments where women acquire skills and knowledge to help them gain autonomy, social mobility and power.
Pia Mann, organising committee, Discover Football:
"Our vision and mission is to create a world where women and girls can play sports all over the world without being discriminated against for any reason. We've brought together many women and femininities who wouldn’t have met otherwise if it hadn’t been for our projects, and we use football as a tool to meet people to exchange ideas and for mutual empowerment. We are very happy to win the UEFA Grassroots Award. We feel honoured and it's a great recognition of the work that we've done for more than ten years."
The importance of grassroots football
A healthy grassroots game is central to UEFA's strategy to ensure football is the most played, trusted, competitive and engaging sport. Grassroots football:
- Creates a solid foundation for the game
- Provides playing opportunities for all
- Promotes respect, inclusion and equality
- Serves as a vehicle for educational, sporting and social development
- Promotes lifelong participation
- Crucial to the success of elite football
How are UEFA Grassroots Award winners selected?
Candidates are nominated by UEFA's member national associations, with award winners selected by UEFA's Executive Committee, following recommendations made by the organisation's Grassroots Panel and Development and Technical Assistance Committee. This season, particular attention was paid in looking for a contribution to the return to play following the COVID-19 pandemic.