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Danish support sparks success in Guyana

The Danish Football Association (DBU) is making a positive impact in central America having embraced the spirit of the UEFA Assist programme.

Denmark's Martin Braithwaite made a visit to Guyana with the DBU
Denmark's Martin Braithwaite made a visit to Guyana with the DBU FIFA via Getty Images

When Denmark take to the pitch during this World Cup, they will find support not just from fans back home, but a pocket of central America 11,000 kilometres away.

That’s because through its work with the UEFA Assist programme, the Danish Football Association (DBU) has fostered a strong relationship with the Guyana Football Federation (GFF), where it is working to help grow the game at all levels.

Located on the northern mainland of South America, Guyana is a member of CONCACAF, and is a perfect example of how Assist shares the best of European expertise and experience to develop the game around the world, while also supporting UEFA member associations, such as the DBU, in creating their own solidarity programmes.

A sprinkle of stardust

Martin Braithwaite took part in a special futsal game during his visit to Guyana
Martin Braithwaite took part in a special futsal game during his visit to GuyanaGFF

Earlier this year, as part of the relationship, Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite, whose father hails from Guyana, visited the country for the first time, setting pulses racing among young fans, players and even politicians in the country.

"The impact that it had on the country and people seeing Martin, identifying with his Guyanese roots, really meant a lot," explains GFF president Wayne Forde.

"Even though he wasn’t born in Guyana, the players still identified with him as Guyanese. Up until Martin visited, for many young boys and even girls, playing for Barcelona may have been a little bit on the outside of their aspirations, but Martin was able to sit down with a lot of these folks and share the ordinary experiences that he has gone through in order to be where he is in football.

"He shared stories about getting to the practice pitch one hour earlier than his regular teammates and leaving one hour later, and I think, regardless of where you’re growing up, if you can see some value in that level of personal commitment and sacrifice to improving your own skill, you can dream big."

Taking women's football forward

Guyana's Otesha Charles (r) takes on Trinidad & Tobago
Guyana's Otesha Charles (r) takes on Trinidad & TobagoGetty Images

The link between the DBU and the GFF began in 2019, with a donation from Denmark to help fund equipment for Guyana's new women's league – a 37-team competition culminating in a final 16 cup tournament.

"The women’s league is the one where we’re seeing the biggest return on the partnership, " says Forde. "We’ve never had a sustainable women’s league in Guyana. Through the support from the DBU and UEFA Assist, we now have our top female players playing – on average – two days a week, and the season lasts for about six months. So, it’s actually raising the profile of women’s football, but it’s also contributing to meaningful playing time for those girls and raising the standards.

"When I look at some of the games and I see the increase in quality on the pitch from when the league was launched to where it is right now, you can see a clear distinction in where we were to where we are."

Jesper Møller, DBU president:

"We are delighted to assist in developing football in other parts of the world. During this bilateral project with the Guyana Football Federation we have worked with improving conditions for girls and women, so even more people can get involved in the game."

Value of partnership

As it enters its third year, is an exciting future for the partnership, with plans in place to further develop women's football and coaching, as well as organising courses to help local referees reach their potential.

"The DBU really represents the value of solidarity in football," says Forde. "To see two federations that are on two different sides of the globe, with totally different cultures, really coming together, there is no finer example to really epitomise what football is all about, and the conversation and the working meetings have been so fantastic.

"We’re at different levels in our football but finding a common purpose. The DBU is a much more developed federation, but they’re more than willing to share the experiences that they have gained throughout that developmental journey. We can benefit from those experiences, from the capacity that they have, and I’m just so happy that they’re willing to engage with us at that level, and we’re excited about what the future will be for the partnership."

Assist's on-field influence

 Guyana's Matthew Briggs (l) in senior international action against Guatemala
Guyana's Matthew Briggs (l) in senior international action against GuatemalaAFP via Getty Images

Guyanese teams have also taken part in UEFA Assist Under-16 development tournaments, which bring together European national teams with their counterparts from around the world, helping to prepare them for international football and introducing new cultures and styles of play.

Guyana's young players travelled to play against hosts Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania and Montenegro, gaining invaluable experience and developing off-field relationships.

"The most important thing is the experience that those boys had," Forde says. "One evening, they were looking for the players who should have been in their rooms, and they couldn’t find them. They started to look around, and they saw this room with the door slightly ajar. They went into the room, and the boys were in there with the Montenegro players, all bundled up, playing video games and having a good time. To me, that was such a special moment because I believe that’s what it’s all about: having that cultural integration. It’s really something."