Mauritius was the first country to benefit from FIFA’s Grassroots programme via a pilot project. When the idea was first floated, the plan involved launching Grassroots on this island nation, and using it as a testing ground for some of FIFA’s ideas in this area. The scope and successful organisation of the programme have enabled FIFA to draw some initial, positive conclusions.

Up until recently, FIFA’s development programmes were aimed at the top of the football pyramid, from whence elite instructors would pass down their acquired knowledge. This latest project is different from FIFA’s previous schemes as it targets a wider audience.

The key is in the name: through Grassroots, FIFA is reaching out directly to football’s youngest players, six to 12-year-olds, in conjunction with member associations and schools. And the importance of this collaborative effort with local stakeholders was clearly highlighted by the Mauritian initiative. To execute the pilot project, FIFA worked closely not just with the Mauritius Football Association, but also with the country’s government - 3 ministries (Education, Sport and Youth, Health) proved to be essential partners while others (Social Security, Local Government, Trust Fund for Excellence in Sports) provided considerable help and support.

As Grassroots concerns school-age children, creating partnerships with governments is an essential step, as without their cooperation and buy-in, implementing the scheme would simply not be feasible. Moreover, every education system differs from one country to the next, necessitating a case-by-case adaptation that is only possible by working closely with local authorities in order to lay the groundwork.

The programme was implemented in stages, which included a consultation process for all those concerned, the creation of a planning group, the preparation of a programme framework and final approval from FIFA. The Grassroots festival was the last, successful step in the preparatory phase and signalled the launch of the scheme.

The official launch was conducted in May 2009 by FIFA Ambassador Vikash Dhorasoo, together with the Mauritian Minister for Sport and Youth, Satyaprakash Rittoo. It was followed by a national tournament that brought together 276 schools and more than 3,000 children aged between 10 and 11, who played 800 matches altogether, over three different sessions.

As things stand today, the Mauritius project is making excellent progress and has reached the medium-term development phase. The goal is to triple the amount of children involved in the programme by 2011 by spreading the word to every school in the country, and by bringing girls as well as boys into the fold, thereby respecting the guiding principles of the FIFA Grassroots programme.