National initiative receives acclaim after boosting participation and improving infrastructure across the country.
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Moldova's Football in School's programme has been named the Best Participation Initiative in the 2021/22 UEFA Grassroots Awards.
Launched in 2019 and incorporated into the national curriculum, the Football in Schools initiative is the main pillar of the Football Association of Moldova (FMF) strategy, benefiting more than 11,000 students and over 400 teachers so far, with the aim of reaching 45,000 children by 2024.
By offering specialist football classes and renovating pitches and surrounding infrastructure, the FMF is creating opportunities for children to grow up in a happy and healthy environment, as well as being more engaged at school. By demonstrating the benefit of healthy lifestyles, this encourages youngsters to make positive use of their free time and join in community initiatives.
In their own words: Diana Bulgaru, grassroots manager, FMF:
"Through sports and through football especially, we can achieve a lot. It helps us to provide a healthy lifestyle in our country and has a great impact on the development of children, their qualities in social life and psychologically. We want to give everyone the opportunity to play football, not only in the big cities of our small country. We're very proud to be the winners of the UEFA Grassroots Awards, and an example for other national football associations."
Aleksander Čeferin, UEFA president:
"Selecting the winners of the UEFA Grassroots Awards is always an enjoyable and inspiring task. It highlights the impressive, inclusive, and noteworthy projects of national associations and clubs across the continent, whose influence often sways beyond sports.
"Congratulations to the winners, and I wish you and all the nominees even more future success as you continue to forge these outstanding projects that have an essential impact on the game's growth and your communities."
Best Participation Initiative 2021/22: Bronze and Silver winners
Silver: Fotbollsgnistan (Sweden)
Fotbollsgnistan (‘football spark’) is a project run by Sweden’s northernmost and geographically largest regional association, where teams must sometimes travel up to 280km each way for away matches. With the population declining since the 1960s, many teams have disbanded due to a lack of players, but now, Fotbollsgnistan is working to improve public health for children and get young people back playing football by recruiting directly from schools and providing equipment for clubs and coaches. Since its launch in May 2020, 24 clubs have been reactivated and 30 more have been founded.
Bronze: Grassroots Campaign 2021 (Netherlands)
In spring and summer of 2021, the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) organised a major campaign to increase youth grassroots participation in its 3,000 registered amateur clubs. Thanks to a music video featuring pop star Snelle and more than 500 'Oranjefestivals' throughout the country, the KNVB has seen a rise in registered players and a big impact on parents' perceptions of football. The project has now been given the green light to continue for a second season.
About the UEFA Grassroots Awards
Since 2010, the UEFA Grassroots Awards have celebrated excellence beneath the elite levels of European football, highlighting the unsung heroes whose dedication allows the game to thrive and provides a foundation for the wider development of the sport.
Candidates are nominated by UEFA's member national associations, with award winners selected by UEFA's Executive Committee, following recommendations made by the organisation's Grassroots Panel and Development and Technical Assistance Committee.
How does UEFA select the winners?
The criteria for Best Participation Initiative include outstanding work on grassroots projects, increasing participation and providing more playing opportunities for people from all backgrounds with a focus on growing and retaining male and female players. This season, particular attention was paid in looking for a contribution to the return to play following the COVID-19 pandemic.