The Republic of Mauritius is a place of considerable significance to world football’s governing body. Not only is it the venue for this week’s 63rd FIFA Congress, but this Indian Ocean island some 900 km from Madagascar became the first nation to benefit from FIFA’s Grassroots Programme, when it was selected for a pilot project back in 2009.
At the time, the initiative marked a considerable change of direction for FIFA’s development programmes, which were hitherto 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. Through Grassroots, FIFA is focusing instead on a group at the base of the pyramid, six to 12-year-olds, in conjunction with member associations and schools.
Thanks to close cooperation between the Mauritius Football Association (MFA) and the Ministries of Education and Human Resources, Sport and Youth, and Health and Quality of Life, the first phase of the project was completed between 2009 and 2011. This consisted of a national inter-school football tournament and schemes to inform participants about the social, cultural, health and educational values of sport in general and football in particular.
In 2012, every national school in Mauritius agreed to take part in the programme. “Without doubt, that’s been one of the most significant achievements we’ve had since Grassroots started here,” the head of the MFA’s Department of Development, Govinden Thondoo, told FIFA.com.
“Among other positive indicators, for example, is the increase in the number of girls playing football, which has gone from 1540 in 2011 to 4460 this year. From a total of 6815 students who took part in the activities in 2012, 48 per cent were girls,” he added.
Challenges and goals
According to Thondoo, that target of getting more girls playing the game was one of the goals the programme set itself, as well as the integration of the MFA with the varying strands of government. In spite of the challenges involved, those goals have been achieved, to the extent that today the programme has a decentralised structure in each educational district, even including the island of Rodrigues, located some 560 km from Mauritius but officially the country’s tenth district.
“We held 55 school festivals in 2012 and have 72 planned for 2013. Furthermore, we’ve already instructed more than 300 teachers,” Thondoo explained.
“The target now is to consolidate this plan in the long term,” he continued. “Potentially, we could have as many as 15,000 participating in these tournaments, and that’s what we’re aiming for. To achieve that, however, we need to not only improve the infrastructure, but also get more teachers, parents and volunteers involved.
"At some stage, we’d like to establish a National Grassroots Day and even incorporate futsal and beach, albeit at a secondary level. Eventually, the intention is to extend the concept into other organisations and even to the communities themselves.”
As for the future of football in Mauritius, Thondoo is very clear about where the focus should be. “It’s important to work on the process of talent-spotting. That means children aged 10-12 being assessed for their technical skills and physical aptitude. From that pool, talent will emerge that could eventually form a group of elite players capable of feeding into our national teams,” he concluded.