A Grassroots legacy for Thailand

Legacy. It's the buzzword connected to modern major sporting events around the globe, but can often sound glib.

FIFA's 'Grassroots' programme, however, is at the forefront of the world governing body's development efforts. The mission is simple: to get as many people as possible involved in the game, instilling human values, and above all, bringing enjoyment to all, simply by letting them take part.

On Saturday, in front of the Huamark Indoor Stadium - one of the four FIFA Futsal World Cup 2012 venues, in Bangkok - 600 children from across the Thai capital came together at the culmination of a three-day seminar.

Under the tutelage of FIFA Development's Marco Schüepp and FIFA Instructors Sam Schweingruber and Vai-Chung Tsang, boys and girls aged 6-12 took part in a day-long Futsal festival. The organisation of the day was undertaken by Thai coaches, putting into practice what they had learnt during the previous 48 hours.

We think the FAT want to make this the start of something, and that would be a tangible legacy of what has happened here today.
Vai-Chung Tsang

What could have been organised chaos with so many excited children, however, ran like clockwork across five pitches. Two of the pitches were made of a special matting in the distinctive Futsal colours of red and blue, provided by FIFA. These will be utilised in the North-Eastern province of Korat for a similar event next month, and then handed over to the FA of Thailand to utilise for other grassroots events this year, and beyond.

The start of something
Schweingruber was one of 40 FIFA instructors who were recently in Zurich (see article on right hand side) but has been based in Cambodia for the last nine years. "I went travelling and never came back," he told FIFA.com under the baking afternoon sun. "In Asia there's an unbelievable amount of football on TV and people love the game, but in Cambodia there were no youth leagues or anyone helping the kids to play, or develop their skills."

Schweingruber consequently knocked on doors to obtain some funding, and subsequently set up his own NGO, rescuing young Cambodian women from human trafficking. Three years ago he became a FIFA Instructor, helping to educate similar-minded individuals around the world.

Tsang from Hong Kong is a Futsal expert who delivers Level 1 and Level 2 coaching courses for the AFC and FIFA in Asia. He explained how the Bangkok festival was a pilot, the first FIFA Grassroots programme to use Futsal at its core.

"Futsal is very popular here, but like many countries, there is nothing between the elite national team, and the kids playing in parks or on wasteground. Working with the Thai FA we gave the coaches some mentoring, and then they have delivered today's festival. It's not about trying to spot talented young players, but about mixing children of all abilities.

"You get to meet new people, make new friends, and learn new skills too. If you suddenly play in a team with younger players or less technical players, you have to be patient. In this way we help build some leaders, who the other children listen and learn from."

While countries like Spain, Japan and Korea Republic were named by Tsang as 'model countries' in terms of Futsal structures, not every model can be cut and pasted. "Different countries have different traditions, cultures and existing structures," he said.

"Our role is to modify what we know can work, to best suit the organisational capabilities of each respective member association. Of course, if an FA decides to hold such events on a regular basis, suddenly they will be able to start identifying the more talented, technical players who can potentially be earmarked for some specialist coaching.

"For now we hope to have passed on some ideas and a template. Next, the association has to motivate themselves to use the course, and the one next month as a catalyst. Sam and I would both love to come back to Thailand in 12 months and see what progress has been made. We think the FAT want to make this the start of something, and that would be a tangible legacy of what has happened here today."