What is the best way to sustain Belgium’s success on the international stage? This is the challenge Belgium face as they sit perched at the top of FIFA’s world rankings.
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Planning for the future is being carried out at all levels across the country – epitomising the fact that, in a team sport, everyone has a role to play.
1. DEVELOPING A MODERN GAMEPLAN
Belgium’s magnificent success is not the result of some kind of miracle: it stems from a long period of hard work. Several months after the country had achieved the greatest result in its history by finishing third at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the Royal Belgian Football Association set out an 11-point plan aimed at modernising the organisation. In June 2019, a set of reforms were announced spanning all levels and areas of the organisation: sporting matters, institutional issues, refereeing, governance, social matters, digital affairs, budgets.
2. BRINGING IN NEW TALENT
The national association had no hesitation in seeking assistance from outside the country. In the case of refereeing, former international referee David Elleray was tasked with drawing up a master plan for the country to follow. “Belgium has traditionally produced significant numbers of top international referees, but that supply line has dried up since 2010, which was the last time we saw a Belgian (Frank De Bleeckere) officiating at a major tournament,” says Elleray.
3. LONG-TERM PLANNING
The national team coach Roberto Martinez has a long-term vision for the future, which he says enjoys the full support of the association’s management: “I am working to keep Belgium at the pinnacle of world football, but we also need to plan for the future. With that in mind, we have developed a number of programmes that bring professional and amateur football together, and UEFA has given us enormous support with that.”
4. FANNING THE RED FLAMES
At just 34 years of age, Katrien Jans is the head of women’s football at the Belgian FA. Earlier this year, she and her team launched a five-year plan entitled The World At Our Feet, which seeks to bring a major expansion of the women’s game. Football is the third most popular sport among Belgian girls, behind tennis and swimming. The aim is to achieve top spot on the podium by 2024. “We have around 38,500 registered players, and the majority of them are over the age of 18. So, we have an inverted pyramid. Consequently, one of the four pillars of our plan involves making sure that girls start playing as early as possible within structures that are tailored to them.”
5. GIVING BACK TO SOCIETY
The national association’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme spans four different subject areas: integration, human rights, health and sustainability. This is a way of giving back to a society that is strongly supportive of its national team. ”It’s something of a cliché, but the CSR programme was established because we know that football can help to bring about change in society,” says Hedeli Sassi, a trained social worker who joined the Belgian FA in 2017. The players provide considerable support. “ The various members of the men’s and women’s national teams have responded very positively to our initiatives, for example, by recording messages aimed at tackling discrimination. Their opinions carry a lot of weight,” adds colleague An De Kock.