Six clubs, national associations and initiatives have been honoured thanks to their outstanding work in developing the game.
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Winners from Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Moldova and Poland are celebrating after being recognised in the 2022/23 UEFA Grassroots Awards.
The Awards turn the floodlights on some of European football's lesser-known stars, celebrating the individuals, clubs, national associations and initiatives that help to develop the game for everybody and make a vital contribution to their community.
This year, a special award was presented to the Football Association of Moldova, due to its exceptional commitment to delivering aid and providing sporting opportunities to families and children affected by the war in Ukraine.
Since their launch in 2010, 127 UEFA Grassroots Awards have now been presented, to winners from 42 member national associations.
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."
The 2022/23 UEFA Grassroots Awards winners
Best Professional Club: Olympique de Marseille (France)
Marseille and its OM Foundation helped create La Castellane FC, a grassroots community club in the north of the city.
Since its birth four years ago, La Castellane has developed into a pillar of the local community, providing social support and a safe place to play for local children and young people. With 15 teams and more than 130 registered players, the club has grown rapidly, introducing a women's section for 2022/23.
As well as paying fees, donating equipment and training coaches, Marseille also offer Castellane players, staff and volunteers the opportunity to train at the OM Campus, with regular invitations to matches and concerts at their iconic Stade Vélodrome home.
Lucie Venet, executive director of OM Foundation:
"We knew that children were playing football, but they didn't have a football club. So, the purpose was really to give them the opportunity to practice football in a club affiliated to the French Football Federation with qualified coaches.
"La Castellane is more than just a football club. The purpose is really to offer new opportunities and have a positive impact on the players, not only as players, but as the citizens of tomorrow."
Best Amateur Club: Ilves (Finland)
Ilves is the largest football club in Finland with more than 5,000 registered players, offering playing opportunities for children as young as three, seniors into their seventies and players living with disability, proof that football really is for everyone.
UEFA research shows that through its promotion of a healthy lifestyle among its players and work at schools and kindergartens, Ilves' social contribution equates to more than €31m each year. Each season, the club engages and educates 1,000 volunteers to become better coaches, physiotherapists and team managers, offering UEFA-level training. In turn, this has seen the club produce elite-level talent – in 2021, more than 50 youth national team players had come through the Ilves system.
Matti Anttonen, Ilves FC executive director:
"The biggest thing we can share is the love of football and futsal and the love of sports. If we can share that message, it's going to benefit Ilves, benefit football in the region and the whole of Finland.
"We get the message to parents that this is a safe environment and that healthy lifestyle is one of our main club values - they know this is where they want their kids to grow up."
Best Social Initiative: Football Fitness Training Camp (Denmark)
The Danish Football Association's (DBU) Football Fitness Training Camp used football as "medicine" to help improve the health and well-being of people aged over 60, promoting physical health and camaraderie through a modified form of the game.
Consisting of two 75-minute training sessions, complete with injury-prevention warm-ups, the camp provided education sessions on the principles behind football fitness and a barbecue for the 57 participants, where they strengthened their links and shared experiences from life in and out of the game.
A huge expansion is planned for 2023, with up to 500 men and women due to be involved in the next event.
Peter Krustrup, Professor of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark:
"Football is a very special tool because it combines health promotion with fun and camaraderie that many people can benefit from, regardless of their age, gender and social background.
"Football training is a fantastic prevention and treatment of lifestyle diseases, both related to cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases and musculoskeletal challenges."
Best Disability Initiative: Women's amputee football (Poland)
In 2022, the Amp Futbol Polska organisation and the Polish Football Association launched Europe's first female amputee football team.
Now boasting a squad of 17, the team holds two-day training camps each month, and hosted the first-ever international women's amputee football event in March. They are the perfect example that the beautiful game is for everyone, regardless of age, background or ability.
Mateusz Widłak, CEO, Amp Futbol Polska:
"Sometimes, the way people with disabilities are presented is that they need help, but when we are showing the same people with disabilities in a football context it's more about respect and about them becoming heroes. Our women’s amputee team can change the perception of people with disabilities. But, also, how people with disabilities are looking at themselves. This project is good for the players, as well as people in society."
Best Participation Initiative: The Cyprus Football Association (CFA)
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.
Harris Kyrillou, Grassroots Football Manager, CFA:
"We used to have standings, leagues, qualifications and championship finals from Under-12 upwards, but it was like a small war from the teams, coaches and even the fans.
"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. At the end of the year we have a huge grassroots festival and all the kids are winners."
Special Award: The Football Association of Moldova (FMF)
In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and by working alongside UEFA, the UEFA Foundation and UNICEF, Moldova's football community has united to provide help, support and opportunity for thousands of children and families.
The FMF offered its national training centre and futsal arena as accommodation, providing equipment and supplies, as well as organising a wide variety of football activities for children.
In total, it is estimated that the association has directly helped more than 10,000 refugee children over the past year, despite previously having no budget allocated for such actions. Many are now integrated into Moldovan schools and sports clubs as they look to a brighter future.
Diana Bulgaru, grassroots manager, FMF:
"Two days after the war started, we had a lot of refugees coming to our country. It was very hard to see these people crossing the border only in slippers and with a small bag.
“We started a lot of activities to help them - almost all of the football clubs in Moldova gave up their training facilities to allow the refugees and their children somewhere to sleep.
"We didn't have a plan or any budget but we just wanted to help these people. We are all just volunteers who wanted to help."
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.
How UEFA is developing grassroots football across Europe
UEFA is dedicated to ensuring that everybody, everywhere can play football in a safe and quality-controlled environment.
The grassroots game provides the broad base that allows elite football to thrive and is central to ensuring that football is the most played, trusted, competitive and engaging sport in Europe.
- 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
Last year, we finalised a framework to guide national associations in shaping their own vision for the development of grassroots clubs, unveiled at the UEFA Grassroots Conference in Madrid in September.
Additionally, we continue to set standards for the grassroots coaching community, with the UEFA C diploma offering an introduction to structured coaching for parents, teachers and volunteers keen to get involved in the game.