Three life-changing projects championed by European football associations show that there is no age limit on football’s power to strengthen communities and improve health.
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Making football accessible for everyone regardless of their age is a key goal of UEFA’s Football Sustainability strategy, embodied in its health and well-being policy. By 2027, we would like 60% of our 55 member associations to be delivering football activities that specifically support the needs of older people.
On the United Nations’ annual International Day of Older Persons, we celebrate three innovative projects that show how European associations are changing the game when it comes to improving the lives of the elderly - whether by improving physical and mental health or tackling social isolation.
• #MyTime: the Maltese Football Association and the Ministry For Active Ageing are connecting older people with local communities and football clubs.
• Football Memories: joint Scottish Football Association and Alzheimer Scotland project present famous football photos to preserve memories and prompt conversations.
• Walking Football World Nations Cup 2023: success of first-ever tournament highlights benefits of an increasingly popular new way of playing the game for the elderly.
Michele Uva, UEFA Social and Environmental Sustainability Director:
"We are proud to highlight these three initiatives and acknowledge how they empower older adults, promoting active aging, as a factor of sociality, health prevention and improvement of quality of life. At UEFA, we look forward to continuing to support collaboration and innovation to develop football activities for older people."
Since February 2022, #MyTime, run by the Maltese Football Association and the Ministry For Active Ageing, has taken a four-step approach to gently encourage elderly people to exercise and get involved in their local communities and football clubs.
1. Build trust: meetings with elderly people living in residential homes and Active Ageing Centres
2. Watch football: invitations to visit the football museum at Malta's national stadium and attend live matches.
3. Bridge the generation gap: football events where youths and children act as mentors and motivators.
4. Walking football: involvement in walking football to develop physical motor skills.
For more than 10 years, the official football museum of the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and Alzheimer Scotland have run ‘Football Memories’ – a project that uses photography to help elderly people living with memory loss, including dementia, and often isolated from their local communities.
The SFA launched the initiative in 2009 before teaming up with Alzheimer Scotland 12 months later. Results have shown how visual reminders of historic football moments or personalities can help trigger memories and prompt conversations, revitalising powers of recall.
By building a digital photo library and offering online resources the partnership has helped create a nationwide sports reminiscence network, connecting more than 250 projects and involving sports like rugby, shinty, golf, and cricket.
Walking football, a modified version of the game in which pace and style of play are adapted to reduce the risk of injury, has gained huge popularity across Europe for over 50s, 60s, 65s and 70s. The sport not only has health benefits. Players testify to the transformational social benefits of making new friends in older life and being part of a community.
Last August, 19 teams from all continents travelled to England to participate in the first-ever Walking Football World Nations Cup. The home nation was victorious in both the over 50 and over 60 categories, defeating the Czech Republic and France respectively in the finals. However, as the official website emphasises, every participant was a winner: "Although this was about the games, it was the spirit and friendship that should be remembered. Old friendships renewed and new ones made."