Futsal going from strength to strength

The global growth of futsal is showing no signs of slowing up, as a recent survey conducted by FIFA’s Development Committee shows. It found that out of 209 member associations, some 150 are now playing the sport with varying levels of organisation, an 18 per cent increase on 2006, when a similar survey revealed that the sport was being played in 127 associations.

The most significant statistics were to be found in the African Football Confederation (CAF), where the number of associations where futsal is now played has jumped from 21 to 53 per cent, just behind the 57 per cent recorded in the North, Central America and Caribbean Confederation (CONCACAF) and the 64 per cent in the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC).

The fact that African countries where futsal was virtually non-existent in 2006 – Zimbabwe being one example – have taken part in the qualifiers for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012 is an indication of that growth. A total of 115 member associations participated in the qualification process for the upcoming final phase, 18 more than for Brazil 2008.

FIFA has played an important role in this growth, by putting together programs to help develop futsal, even in countries with a bigger football tradition. An example of this is Germany, an unquestioned football power, that just hosted a futsal coaches course.

Starting from scratch
Some federations are also starting from scratch. An example of this development can be found in Mongolia in Asia, where the foundations for playing the sport were laid at the end of the 1990s but where a formal futsal structure was only created in 2008, with the support of FIFA.

Maya Lhamdorj, the head of the Mongolian Football Association’s (FMF) Department of International Relations, told FIFA.com how it all began: “In our case, the programme became a priority because of the impact the climate has on the football season. Winter lasts for seven months here, with temperatures always below zero, and because of that football has always been a summer sport. Our goal, though, was to make it a sport that can be played all year round.”

The FMF faced all sorts of problems, such as a lack of knowledge of the rules and a shortage of futsal balls and boots, though the greatest obstacle of all was the fact they had no indoor arena that conformed to international requirements or could protect players from the elements.

“Fortunately, and thanks to FIFA Goal Projects 3 and 4, we were able to open a hall at our headquarters last November. It also has a modern heating system,” said Lhamdorj.

“The impact was almost instant,” continued the FMF official, who sees Mongolia unsuccessful bid to qualify for Thailand 2012 as just the start of the process. “The number of players has grown enormously, even among children, and we’re now planning to set up competitions at all levels. We can also get more out of seminars now, like the one we had for coaches in January, and extend them to referees. The idea is to plan for the long term.”

Competition means growth
Another interesting statistic thrown up by the survey is that out of the 150 associations where futsal is played, 116 of them have a national men’s championship in place at the very least. This represents a significant step forward for some countries, which have prepared the ground for the development of the game and can now be considered emerging futsal nations.

In the opinion of the Guatemalan Football Association’s futsal chief Gerardo Paiz, the creation of a professional league proved crucial in building on the legacy of hosting the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2000. “The national league was vital because it allowed us to bring in talented new players, increasing the selection pool for the full national team and the various youth sides,” he told FIFA.com.

In working towards the expansion of club competitions to a regional level, Paiz said he believed such a development would benefit Guatemala and the area as a whole. In the meantime, Los Chapines have been making progress on the international front. After failing to qualify for Chinese Taipei 2004, the Central Americans returned to the big stage at Brazil 2008. Now something of a powerhouse in the region, the Guatemalans will host the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for Thailand 2012 next month.

Organisation and promotional activities
The survey also revealed some encouraging information on how member associations go about running the sport internally. While nearly 61 per cent of them have set up a futsal committee and/or department, around 57 per cent also engage in futsal-related educational and promotional activities. In this respect, both schools and universities have potential roles to play in supporting member associations in their efforts to promote futsal and provide a structure for its development.

“In late 2009 when NZF signalled the intent to put futsal under the governance of the national body, futsal was still very much “underground.” To ensure we didn’t clash, but complimented with football activity we aligned the pathways of both football and futsal. For all junior programmes delivered indoor, a futsal ball has been introduced”, said Dave Payne, Futsal Development Manager

“The next step was to engage schools. We are now active in primary and secondary schools and our next goal is getting football clubs involved in our futsal leagues”, he added.