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Football's power to unite: breaking barriers, building communities

EURO 2020 is playing a front-line role in helping European countries to use football to tackle all forms of discrimination – both on and off the pitch.

Every year, UEFA draws on revenue from the European Championship to allocate €100,000 to each of its 55 member association for investment in social responsibility programmes. There is one proviso: the programmes must use football to tackle two key global issues.

"When your sport is played and followed by millions of people, your actions have an enormous impact on society," says Michele Uva, director of football social responsibility (FSR) at UEFA. "We believe football can play a lead role in promoting behavioural change on both the environment and human rights.

"This year, we will invest a total of €12m in promoting social responsibility activities. For us, it is an investment in the future, not only for football but also society."

In the 2019/20 season alone, 46 of Europe's football associations chose to invest UEFA funds in projects creating equal opportunities for marginalised communities: refugees; people with disabilities or mental health challenges; addicts; ethnic, economic, religious and sexual minorities; prisoners; fans; and orphans.

The breadth and depth of these initiatives is astonishing. We asked six national associations to explain how they are using the beautiful game to create a level playing field for everyone:

San Marino

San Marino Football Federation (FSGC) colleagues Andrea Zoppis and Luca Pelliccioni providing ADC commentary at the opening game of EURO 2020
San Marino Football Federation (FSGC) colleagues Andrea Zoppis and Luca Pelliccioni providing ADC commentary at the opening game of EURO 2020

Andrea Zoppis, international projects officer and supporters' liaison officer

What's the project called?

"San Marino open and green."

How does the project work?

"The aim of the project is to make our national stadium accessible to all types of disabled supporters. As a part of that, with help from UEFA's partner CAFE, we organised an audio-descriptive commentary (ADC) training course ahead of the Under-21 European Championship in 2019. ADC helps partially sighted and blind match-going fans with a detailed description of what's happening on the pitch." (Find out more on ADC here)

Who took part in the course?

"Attendees from San Marino included journalists and FSGC employees. In addition, the disability access officer from AC Milan attended day two of the seminar to find about more about the service and training required."

How has it been implemented?

"It had an immediate impact at the first ever U21 finals game hosted in San Marino, with ADC available for the Croatia vs Romania fixture played on 18 June 2019.

"We provide the service for all San Marino's home matches and have received requests from Italian clubs to help them do the same. Thanks to this service, partially sighted and blind fans have enjoyed a much-improved matchday experience."

EURO revenue helped get this project off the ground. Has it also ensured that ADC has been available during the tournament itself?

"Yes, CAFE and UEFA asked us to provide ADC for all matches played in Rome during EURO 2020. Our commentators (there are three of us) were trained two years ago, and have the best experience."

"What is more, with Italy being in the final, we have been asked to deliver ADC at Wembley, so we'll be there for the biggest game in European football!!"


Visit the San Marino Football Federation (FSGC)

Republic of Ireland

Ger McDermott, FAI head of grassroots
Ger McDermott, FAI head of grassrootsSPORTSFILE

Ger McDermott, head of grassroots football 

What's the project called?

"Walking Football."

Why did your association decide to create a new style of football for the elderly?

"When we talk about increasing participation levels in football or player retention, we tend to focus on children and young adults, not men and women who fall away from our sport saying they're too old to play. Our answer was to introduce walking football for the over-50s: a non-contact form of the game, practised on smaller pitches, indoors and outdoors.

"Just because you can't sprint or change direction quickly shouldn't rule you out from playing the simplest sport in the world – you can walk to play!"

SPORTSFILE

How long did it take for the project to take off? 

"We started locally, using funds from UEFA and Sport Ireland, and reaching out to communities – both through our national network of football development officers and linking with community groups.

"A Walking Football Festival staged at the National Indoor Arena in Dublin in January 2020 showed just how much the programme has grown. There were 120 players taking part, aged 50 and above, and representing 14 teams from Blanchardstown, Santry, Balbriggan, Coolock, Finglas, Cabra, Drogheda, Offaly, Celbridge, Naas and Arklow."

What are you most proud of?

"The real power of the programme lies in its social aspect. One player told us that it was the first time he had made new friends in decades.

"Walking footballers may only spend 40 minutes on the pitch, but a chat over a cup of tea after a game can last two hours. That's huge."

Tom Shields, Palmerstown

"It's great that you're able to get out of the house and meet people and have a chat with them and see that, again, at the end of my days, I can still get out and walk."


Visit the Football Association of Ireland (FAI)

Austria

Ingo Mach, ÖFB football social responsibility manager
Ingo Mach, ÖFB football social responsibility manager

Ingo Mach, football social responsibility manager

What's the project called?

"Fussball für Alle." (Football for Everybody)

Why did your association choose to take a stand against homophobia in football?

"We were inspired by EuroPride, the pan-European international event dedicated to LGBT, which was hosted by Vienna in 2019. Rather than reacting to incidents of discrimination, I proposed that our association proactively tackle homophobia in Austrian football."

What was your proposal?

How football is tackling discrimination in Austria
How football is tackling discrimination in Austria

"To establish an independent ombudsman for Austrian football to serve as a contact person to address any reports of sexual discrimination, at all levels of the game. Thanks to support from the association, the Austrian Football Bundesliga and UEFA, Oliver Egger was appointed as our first ombudsman in 2019. Oliver, who was a defender for FC Gratkorn in the Oberliga Mitte West, was the first Austrian soccer player to be open about his homosexuality."

How does the ombudsman's office work?

"Any footballers who do not feel comfortable coming out, or who have suffered discrimination because of their sexual orientation, can get in touch with the ombudsman using a confidential hotline. We prefer direct contact to talk via cell phone or WhatsApp, but email is also fine.

"We also run workshops to raise awareness across the wider football family, from schoolchildren and grassroots clubs to professional players and national associations beyond Austria. We're proud that our association was the first to create an ombudsman and is now a role model for other UEFA members."

What's your biggest achievement so far?

"There are real signs of a change in football culture. Last season, we organised a national workshop inviting supporters not just of the national team but also all clubs participating in the Austrian Football Bundesliga. Since then, it's noticeable how fans are much more conscious of whether their language is homophobic or not."

Oliver Egger, ombudsman (Fussball für Alle)

"We hope that, in two to three years' time, it will be entirely normal for footballers, men and women, to come out."


Visit the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB)

Georgia

Nikoloz Tevdoradze, GFF football social responsibility manager
Nikoloz Tevdoradze, GFF football social responsibility manager

Nikoloz Tevdoradze, football social responsibility manager

What's the project called?

"Georgian amputee league and cup competitions."

Why have you focused your social responsibility programme on amputee footballers?

"There are many amputee footballers in Georgia, whose injuries were sustained either in conflict or other circumstances. From the start, our federation felt it was a moral obligation to help these players. First, by providing facilities to ensure they could train and compete regularly and, second, by ensuring they were welcomed as members of the wider football community.

"We prioritise giving every Georgian the chance to play the game in a safe and secure environment – either recreationally or professionally. Setting up the amputee football league and cup competitions shows how football can help integrate people with disabilities into society."

Breaking barriers: amputee football in Georgia
Breaking barriers: amputee football in Georgia

How does the project work?

"Each season, six teams representing five Georgian cities compete in the Amputee Football Championship. There is also an Amputee Football Cup, in which the six teams are split into two groups – East and West – with the winners qualifying for the final. At the end of the season, we also stage a Super Cup finale, with the league champions meeting the cup winners in a one-off match.

"Without UEFA financial support, none of this would be possible. It has been essential, both in starting and sustaining the tournament."

What is the biggest sign of the project's success?

"Organising the first ever Amputee Champions League final in Tbilisi in 2019, together with the European Amputee Football Federation.

"It was an unforgettable moment with six clubs taking part: Everton (England), Cork City (Ireland), Ortotek Gazileri (Turkey), Dinamo Altai (Russia), Legia Warszawa (Poland) and our own AFC Tbilisi (Georgia).

"Just seeing the joy on the faces of the Georgian amputee players who took part made it all worthwhile."

David Babutsadze, Tbilisi Club

"Football has changed my daily life for the better, improving my health and morale. I am proud to be part of this community and look forward to new and rewarding experiences in the game."


Visit the Georgian Football Federation (GFF)

Sweden

Andreas Jansson, head of communications at the SvFF
Andreas Jansson, head of communications at the SvFF

Andreas Jansson, head of communications 

What's the project called?

"Alla Är Olika-Olika Är Bra." (Everyone is different; different is good)

What are you doing to level the playing field across Sweden?

"We believe everyone should have an equal opportunity to enjoy the game. With the support of UEFA and other Swedish Football Association (SvFF) partners, our social responsibility programme funds several initiatives that ensure nothing stands in the way of making football dreams come true: not nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation or ability."

Uniting communities: creating an Equal Game in Sweden
Uniting communities: creating an Equal Game in Sweden

How does the project work?

"Backed by a leading Swedish supermarket chain, Alla Är Olika-Olika Är Bra has allowed hundreds of football clubs to launch initiatives that break down barriers to getting involved in the game. It could be a project that trains girls to become referees or one that starts a team made up entirely of refugees – they all support equal opportunity."

How have Swedes responded?

"Since the project's launch in 2016, we have invested €1m. There are now 300 clubs where everyone is welcome to play the game. We will continue to work for everyone's right to participate in the football movement and support football clubs that work for the same cause."

Emre Gürler, Eskilstuna United DFF head of sustainability

"Thanks to Alla Är Olika-Olika Är Bra, our club was able to start Hjärta United (Heart United). With the help of our players, we tackle the most pressing social issues in Eskilstuna: long-term unemployment, the loneliness of the elderly and equality for young girls. We're proud of what we have achieved."


Visit the Swedish Football Association (SvFF)

Wales

Rob Franklin, FAW project manager
Rob Franklin, FAW project manager

Rob Franklin, project manager

What's the project called?

"We wear the same shirt."

How is the Football Association of Wales (FAW) breaking down social barriers?

"One in four people experience a symptom of mental ill health in their lives. Fifty percent of those will manifest themselves before the age of 14. So, it's not really a condition that just affects a select group of people. It affects everybody.

"In 2015, we started a project that uses football to help – both in highlighting the prevalence of mental health issues among young people and offering them the chance to exercise and socialise."

Football's role in mental health in Wales
Football's role in mental health in Wales

How does the project work?

"The first step is overcoming the stigma of mental health. To do that, we work with semi-professional and professional clubs to create a safe, welcoming place for anybody suffering from mental health problems to play football.

"Thanks to UEFA's support, we've been able to expand the project to ten Welsh clubs: Swansea City Community Trust, Newport County in the Community, Cardiff Metropolitan University FC, Cambrian & Clydach Village Trust, Wrexham Inclusion FC, Newtown AFC, Haverfordwest County AFC, Bangor 1876 FC, Penybont FC and Barry Town United AFC."

What's the biggest sign of progress?

"The stories of the participants. They are staggering. Some even say the project has saved their lives. Some of the guys when they first came to us were really shy and nervous. Now they have bonded so much together. It's fantastic to see their characters come out."

Luke Martin, who has schizophrenia, County in the Community

"Three years ago, I thought I was a nobody. I didn't think anybody wanted to know me. Three years on, it's been amazing. I've passed my C-licence. It is so good to be able to go out and give back to those that helped me. It has given me a positive attitude, not just on football but on life as well."

Visit the Football Association of Wales (FAW) 

How EURO revenue supports the development of European football

UEFA will distribute 65% of UEFA EURO 2020 revenue to its member associations and clubs. Of this, almost two-thirds is channelled through its HatTrick funding programme for reinvestment in football development, from the grassroots to the top of the game.

All 55 UEFA member associations rely on HatTrick to sustain initiatives supporting elite youth player development, grassroots and women's football, national coach education courses, referee training and, since 2016, football social responsibility initiatives.

In April 2020, after the postponement of EURO 2020, UEFA released €236.5m of HatTrick funds to ensure associations were financially equipped to deal with the pandemic's economic fallout. Adapting to unprecedented circumstances, UEFA allowed associations to determine for themselves how best to invest these payments to protect the long-term future of the game.