On 27 and 28 October, the Home of FIFA hosted 50 fans from 22 countries in the Fan Focus Group 2016. This was not only a way for FIFA to learn what people from around the world are thinking about a variety of topics within football, but to get a sense of the best ways to communicate directly with supporters.

“This summer FIFA reached out to the global football community and asked them for their opinions on a variety of football related topics,” said FIFA Head of Digital Marketing Christian Volk, referring to the 26,200 people who responded to FIFA’s call. “We invited 50 fans based on their best ideas and input to cooperate with FIFA on solutions to some of their needs and problems.”

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura hosted a Q&A with the participants, who came from five continents and were aged between 18 and 56. The first woman and the first non-European to act as the head of FIFA’s administration was passionate about the opportunity to meet the people. “The fans are really the blood and flesh of FIFA. Without fans there is no football,” she said. “And to see them coming with such a big level of enthusiasm… just means to me that they do care for football.”

One of the fans, Allison Carey from the USA, appreciated the Secretary General’s comments and the emphasis on women’s football. “She’s such an inspiring woman. It was nice to see some of the things FIFA is focused on, particularly with women’s football. There was a lot of discussion of gender equality in the game that I think will be a big focus for FIFA moving forward.”

A special event and visitor
In addition to group discussions on a variety of topics, the visitors received messages from representatives of different FIFA divisions, including a video message from FIFA President Gianni Infantino and a surprise visit from Marco van Basten, is FIFA’s Chief Officer for Technical Development. “In the end [fans] are the people who make the football and also the players ‘great’,” said the former Netherlands international.

The fans were also ­able to attend a ‘live’ demonstration of testing being done by The IFAB, or International Football Association Board, and FIFA on the use of video replays in football matches. The reaction to the new VAR (Video Assistant Referees) technology was very positive. “The system they’re looking to implement will make the game improve,” said Chris Thian, while George-Andrei Chirila said he was already in favour of it, but the tests made him more so. “It will be good improvement for the game moving forward,” he said.

At the end of the day, the working groups were considered a big success by FIFA and the visiting supporters. “For us it’s very important to understand, and understanding starts with listening. Once we’ve done that we can go into the next phase, which is building and co-creating solutions,” said Volk.

“These last couple of days have proven that FIFA is putting fans at the forefront of their thoughts going forward, and frankly, it’s long overdue,” said Ryan Keaney, while Jennifer Pardey added: “I think it’s been an unbelievable experience to feel heard, to feel that we the fans have a voice and that voice is being heard by top administrators.”