The Cyprus Football Association (CFA) wins the 2022/23 Best Participation Initiative after bringing more than 1,000 youth teams into a new organised structure.
Article top media content
By unifying different elements of grassroots football, the CFA has increased youth participation and created a more positive environment for children to enjoy the game, based less on results and more on enjoyment and fair play.
Previously, private academies operated outside of the CFA's influence, often playing unregistered or overage players to gain advantage, but in 2019 the association introduced a new scheme to bring all youth football under its own control.
Four years on, the unification programme has now absorbed all 134 academies across the country into its registration system, meaning 1,047 teams are now providing football for more than 10,000 fully registered five-to-15-year-olds. That means 14,000 matches are played each year, fully funded by the CFA with event and refereeing costs all covered.
The changes have worked due to open communication and clear incentives, with the CFA sharing technical knowledge, equipment and administrative and financial support with clubs and academies.
Zvonimir Boban, UEFA technical director & chief of football:
"Every player we see on our screens in UEFA competitions began their journey on a local pitch with friends or family.
"The elite game relies on a strong grassroots base, and that is why it is imperative that we celebrate the lesser-known stars who are bringing the game to people of all ages and abilities across Europe.
"We look forward to announcing the winners this week and congratulate them all on their fantastic work."
Harris Kyrillou, grassroots football manager, CFA:
"We used to have standings, leagues, qualifications and championship finals from Under-12 upwards. We sat down with all the key people at our association and the executive committee and decided to make some big changes.
"Now, the only thing we have in our grassroots championships below the age of 15, is participation, fun, love of the game and football for everyone. We have competitive championships, but no standings, no results announced, no qualification, no finals, no prizes. Instead, at the end of the year we have a huge grassroots festival and all the kids are winners."
Best Participation Initiative 2022/23: Bronze and Silver winners
Silver: Futboliukas (Lithuanian Football Federation)
The objective of the highly successful Futboliukas programme is the mass participation of children in football-related activities in kindergartens, and in the past year, applications have increased by more than 300%.
Bronze: Active through Football (English Football Association)
In this project, the FA could target specific groups in society, using football as an instrument to increase the physical activity of communities, such as adults with learning disabilities and physical or mental health conditions, who would otherwise face difficulties and inequalities in accessing programmes and initiatives.
About the UEFA Grassroots Awards
The UEFA Grassroots Awards have been celebrating outstanding contributions and achievements in the game since 2010. Focused on football outside the elite game, the awards turn the floodlights on some of the unsung heroes and inspiring initiatives that make football such a vital part of communities throughout Europe.
Candidates are nominated by Europe's national football associations, with award winners selected by UEFA's Development and Technical Assistance committee following recommendations made by the organisation's Grassroots Panel.
Assessing the Best Participation Initiative, judges look for outstanding grassroots projects that increase the numbers of players and playing opportunities, demonstrating innovation and using research, data and insights to develop the game for people from all backgrounds.