Futsal is growing up
Just over a year ago, the fourth Futsal World Championship took place in Guatemala. It was a huge success in every respect, and as a direct result, Futsal continues to make astonishing progress, winning more fans and becoming more and more professional.
Futsal fans look back fondly on the tournament, and on the final in particular. The culmination of the fourth Futsal World Championship was reached on 3 December in the sold-out Domo arena in Guatemala City. 7,500 passionate fans witnessed a classic encounter between Spain and Brazil, with the Iberians winning a dramatic match 4-3. It was the first time in the history of the championship that Brazil had not triumphed.
The players fully enjoyed playing in the championship, and their enthusiasm was more than matched by that of the entire Futsal community. Guatemala 2000 was an extraordinary event. It was organised to perfection, and the atmosphere in the two arenas in the capital city (Domo and Teodoro Palacios Flores) was red-hot. Nearly 100,000 fans witnessed the 40 games – a new record for a Futsal World Championship. The 16 teams treated us all to some wonderful games, scoring a hatful of goals along the way. The level of play continues to improve, and teams and officials alike could only praise the whole event, impressed as they were by the radiating warmth of the Guatemalans.
"The last World Championship did wonders for our sport and has helped us to take enormous strides forward," said Víctor Beceiro, who is in charge of Futsal at FIFA.
Beceiro admitted to being overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the tournament in Central America. Guatemala 2000, and the inaugural two-day Futsal seminar with about 100 participants, has helped the sport reach new levels of popularity around the world. Futsal is currently played competitively in about 100 countries, and most of them are using FIFA's guidelines and concept to move the game in the right direction.
World football's governing body now holds 15 courses around the world each year, which are regularly attended by referees, officials and trainers. FIFA receives many offers from national associations on every continent, who are all too willing to host the next Futsal training course. Interest in Futsal continues to grow, especially in Asia, where they regard Futsal as a great opportunity to achieve success in the world of sport. As a result, about half of all FIFA Futsal courses are held on the Asian continent.
More sponsors, more progress
Futsal is an attractive and spectacular game in which many goals are scored. Players require great technique to play the game, which is not only played in indoor halls. Excessive bodily contact is also forbidden on the smaller pitch, which obviously results in fewer injuries to players. Small wonder then that Futsal is so popular with children, teenagers and women. The number of Futsal players continues to increase and shows no sign of abating, but the media must also be thanked for their role in this trend. Ever since the World Championship in Guatemala, television stations have dedicated more airtime to the sport, while more reports can now be found in the world's newspapers. Increased exposure can only attract more sponsors and more investors. For example, in May 2002, Disney World in Orlando will play host to an inaugural International Futsal Tournament for children and teenagers.
Sponsors can also take credit for creating new Futsal tournaments on virtually every continent. More money is currently available, and it is being used wisely to develop young players, and to improve the infrastructure and facilities. But challenges remain. We must improve Futsal, make it more professional and make it more attractive. The confederations also have a very important role to play. Each of them needs to set up their own Futsal division. Some of them have already done so, but it is up to the others to follow their lead.
Professional leagues can only currently be found in Spain, Portugal, Russia and Brazil, but they are all immensely popular. In Spain, for example, up to 8,000 spectators flock to the indoor arenas, while Brazil holds the world record attendance of 25,000 for a Futsal match between Atlético Mineiro and Banespa in 1999. In Brazil alone, there are now 1,000 professional players – some of them earn up to USD 20,000 a month – and the number of talented players in South America's biggest country continues to grow. But the best league in the world is in Spain. The top division contains some 16 teams, each with its own stars, who have helped to raise the quality of Futsal in Spain to unprecedented heights.
The Spanish are in demand
Spain sits proudly at the top of the Futsal tree. In Antena 3 and Caja Segovia, Spain can lay claim to two of the best teams in the world, with Segovia winning the unofficial Futsal club world championship in Moscow in October 2000. Then there is the successful national team, and the fact that more and more Spanish trainers and officials are working abroad to help develop Futsal worldwide.
More and more foreign players are plying their trade in Spain too. For example, the Brazilians Schumacher, Vander and Anderson, three of the best players in Guatemala 2000, are currently wearing the colours of Antena 3, Playas de Castellón and Casa Segovia respectively.
In 2004, Spain will defend their title at the fifth Futsal World Championships. FIFA will nominate the host nation in the coming months. So far, seven national associations have put their name forward, including countries from Africa, which is a continent that has not yet really been bitten by the Futsal bug.
In an interview with FIFA Magazine in October 2000, Javier Lozano, the coach of Spain's national Futsal team since 1992 who recently led his team to their 100th win under his control, said, "Futsal is still in its youth and it needs calcium so that its bones grow strong and its body grows". Futsal has not yet grown up, but it is now approaching the end of its formative years.