The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), under the auspices of FIFA, held its first futsal seminar between 12 and 14 December in Montevideo. The attendees, in the main representatives of the futsal departments and committees of the region's ten national football associations, met in the Uruguayan capital to exchange ideas and information over the course of the three-day event.
According to FIFA experts present, the state of futsal in South America is much better than many of its own protagonists realise, a situation due in no small part to their ongoing quest to strengthen and improve the game on the continent. And while it cannot be denied that the game's infrastructure in Brazil is markedly better than that of its neighbours, the sport continues to take root and develop right across the region.
During the three-day seminar, delegates had the opportunity to voice concerns and espouse views on the sport. The majority agreed on the need to establish more top-class international tournaments so as to allow their national and club sides to become more competitive, as well as the need to continue redressing one of the game's main deficiencies in South American: the lack of training for specialist coaches and match officials.
Various aspects of the game were discussed during the sessions, with special emphasis placed on the need for national federations to create a solid and well-organised base that would allow the sport to take root and flourish across all the age categories.
The organisation of the sport in Spain was held up as a practical example during one of the sessions. Visiting speakers explained how the success of the Spanish league, now indisputably the world's premier futsal championship, had been underpinned by a constantly expanding player and fan base.
One of the most positive things to come out of the seminar was the formulation of strategies to try and introduce more children to the sport. To this end, it was felt that sports instructors and parents should be made aware of the game's positive values and be entitled to have it as a part of their children's physical and social education.
"We're looking to introduce children aged six-nine to the sport," said Jaime Yarza, FIFA's Futsal Development Manager, "and this will necessitate the adaptation of the rules for this category, for example by using age-appropriate pitch dimensions, with further modifications for boys and girls." Yarza also noted the considerable progress the sport had made in the region in shedding its male-dominated image, citing as an example CONMEBOL's South American Women's Futsal Championship, still the world's only continental championship for national women's teams.
Another important aspect of the seminar was the sport's marketing. To this end, there were instructive presentations of simple marketing tools and strategies aimed at improving the image of futsal and its commercial appeal. The event concluded with a call for an improvement of communication strategies so as to secure the sport its share of media coverage, and the need to obtain greater business sponsorship to enhance the game's revenue flow and future prospects.
The seminar was also a very useful vehicle for the exchange of ideas between participants and collaboration at federation level. In fact, many national associations made preliminary contact with neighbouring counterparts with a view to future cooperation and the hosting of friendlies.
The event took place amid a genuinely cordial atmosphere with the full participation of all those present. The national associations' futsal representatives concurred with the FIFA delegate on the need to convince their footballing counterparts of the benefits of their discipline, such as its excellent potential in the technical development of athletes, and his call for the game to open up new sporting and financing avenues by means of its own competitions.