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UEFA Grassroots Football Week 2021: Chişinău school children team up with football legends

School football festival in Moldovan capital sets the ball rolling on UEFA and national associations’ annual celebration of grassroots football (23–30 September 2021).

Luís Figo (middle) and Nadine Kessler (right) take part in the Grassroots Football Week kick-off event alongside local children in Chişinău
Luís Figo (middle) and Nadine Kessler (right) take part in the Grassroots Football Week kick-off event alongside local children in Chişinău UEFA via Getty Images

Football legends lined up with 70 Moldovan school children on Wednesday to kick off UEFA’s Grassroots Football Week at a special event showcasing the benefits of learning the beautiful game as early as possible in life.

UEFA ambassador Luís Figo of Portugal, former UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Nadine Kessler, Brazilian defender Maxwell, Croatia’s Zvonimir Boban and Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane all took part in a school football festival organised by the Football Association of Moldova (FMF) to highlight its Football in Schools development programme.

Aleksander Čeferin: "Football is a school of life"

"I think it is very important that children play lots of sport in school," said UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, who also took part in the event. "Through football, children will learn that girls and boys can play together, they learn that they can all be friends, they see different cultures, different backgrounds and they see that football is friendship. In a way football is a school of life."

"It’s all about educating and motivating the future generation," added Maxwell, UEFA’s chief of football development. “Everything starts here – sharing good moments with friends, sharing values like respect and discipline. I wish all the children a lot of fun in football."

"All this makes us confident in the future of this project, which aims to increase society's interest in sports and football in particular," said Leonid Oleinicenco, the FMF President. "A healthy nation is a nation that does physical exercise, does sports, does football."

Chişinău school children exchange pennants with Mr Čeferin
Chişinău school children exchange pennants with Mr ČeferinUEFA via Getty Images

European Week of Sport

Each year, UEFA’s Grassroots Week marks the annual European Week of Sport by highlighting the importance of ensuring everyone, everywhere has an equal opportunity to play football. In 2021 – from 23 to 30 September – UEFA and its 55 member associations will put the focus on playing football in schools.

In Chişinău, boys and girls, all aged 12, from three local schools pitted their skills against the UEFA president and former players on the brand-new pitch at the Nikolai Gogol Lyceum pitch before playing a series of short matches.

"This is how my love for the game started. I know how they feel. Festivals like this one today will inspire children," said Kessler, chief of women's football at UEFA. "Moldova definitely has a bright football future ahead."

Moldova's Focus on Children

"The creation of the football education system is one of the FMF's priorities for the next five years," said the FMF president. "The motto of the new development strategy of the Football Association of Moldova is Focus on Children."

The Chişinău pitch is one of six municipal school football pitches renovated with funds channelled through the FMF’s own Football in Schools programme, a core component of the national education curriculum and a central pillar of the association's 2020–24 strategy for developing football. Working closely with the ministry of education and local public authorities, the FMF is rolling out the programme in kindergartens, schools, specialised classes and football academies.

"The scope of the Football in Schools project is unprecedented since the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Moldova," said Mr Oleinicenco.

Chişinău’s municipal authority will invest €1 million in 2021 towards improving school infrastructure, increasing the salaries of teachers and coaches involved in football in schools and providing food twice a day for children participating in football classes. It also plans to build more than ten football fields for local schools.

"The construction of such pitches is possible thanks to the full support of UEFA. Thanks to UEFA, we are improving a sports infrastructure that has stagnated over time," added Mr Oleinicenco.

Football in Schools 2020–24: focus on Moldova (projected numbers)

Children taking part: 45,000
Schools running activities: 230
Teachers trained: 400
• Ministry of education
• Local public authorities

UEFA Football in Schools programme

The FMF’s Focus on Children initiative is one of numerous four-year school football projects being rolled out by UEFA member associations thanks to funding provided through UEFA’s Football in Schools programme.

By encouraging partnerships between associations, education authorities and schools across Europe, UEFA hopes to give more children the opportunity to learn core values early in life by playing football: fair play, respect, teamwork and leadership.

Alongside coach education and club development, the initiative is a key component of the governing body’s Grassroots Football Charter. Over the next three seasons, UEFA will channel €11 million in funding to support Football in Schools initiatives – one quarter of the total €44 million earmarked for grassroots football support to associations from 2020 to 2024.

The programme is just one example of how UEFA draws on revenue from the European Championship to fund football projects across Europe using its HatTrick development project.

Football in Schools 2020–24: focus on Europe (projected numbers)

Associations investing in school football: 55
Children taking part: 2.8 million+
Schools running activities: 81,000+
Teachers trained: 63,000+
Total investment: €24m + 
UEFA: €11m+
Associations: €6.5m+
Governments and other institutions: €6.5m+