There was no shortage of fun, learning and football on the final day of Turkey’s FIFA Grassroots programme, which brought together 80 children from all over the country.
The week-long event in the city of Nevsehir, some 60 kilometres from FIFA U-20 World Cup venue Kayseri, will surely live long in the memory of its young participants, who have been all smiles for the last few days.
The excitement of the budding footballers, who are all aged around 11, is the clearest indication that the programme has reached its objective. On the back of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, all seven of the tournament’s host cities (Istanbul, Bursa, Antalya, Rize, Kayseri, Trabzon and Gaziantep) have hosted courses over the last few months, each of them attended by 240 children. A total of 80 youngsters were then chosen for the final week, a selection based not on their ability but on criteria that had much to do with fair play, one of the objectives of the project.
“That’s what we were looking for,” said Simone Farina, the FIFA ambassador supporting the Grassroots programme. “We are here to give these children a general grounding in football, and fair play is a very important concept for all of them. We want them to take these values with them in the future and to understand that football is a sport that involves respect for team-mates and opponents. I hope they’ve made the most of it.”
A role model for world football after coming forward to report a match-fixing scandal and a FIFA ambassador, Farina went on to explain that there are no victories or defeats in Grassroots, where football is the only winner and everyone involved in the programme is enriched by the experience of playing the game.
The 22 Turkish instructors who have received training as part of the programme are an example of that, having been given the skills to organise similar activities in other parts of the country, helping the project to put down even deeper roots.
“The FIFA U-20 World Cup gave us the opportunity to get the programme up and running but it’s thanks to these instructors that it will be able to continue” commented FIFA technical consultant Horst Kriete, one of the heads of the Grassroots programme.
“We want to encourage children to play football without having to make major investments in doing so,” he added. “There are a lot of countries and regions where there are no clubs or training centres, and what this programme offers is the chance for youngsters to come together and play the sport. We’re not talking about elite performance here; just the simple pleasure of playing the game.”
The one-week event in Nevsehir, which is situated in the heart of the Cappadocia region, comprised a variety of football-related activities. As part of them, a full-sized pitch was divided into eight different areas, each focusing on a specific objective such as goalscoring, skills tests, passing, finishing and coordination. The youngsters also played four and five-a-side foot tennis matches and took part in a host of other fun games.
“Variety speeds development,” added Kriete. “We’ve set these youngsters some challenges they’ve never faced and that’s great because they’ll remember it all in the future. There are a lot of famous players today who look back fondly on the work they did at an early age and pay tribute to their first coaches. Who knows, we might be forging such bonds here too.”
Judging by their skills, some of the youngsters having fun on the mini pitches have every reason to believe Kriete’s words might come true for them. “I love football,” said 11-year-old Erman Vardar, who dreams of being a professional footballer one day and lists Xavi and Andres Iniesta as his idols. “I just want to be wherever the ball is. It’s been an amazing holiday. What could be better than playing football every day?”
No less thrilled was Emir Sen, who in no way regretted having made the journey from Istanbul. “It’s been great, an unforgettable experience,” said Emir, 11, who supports Galatasaray and whose biggest heroes are Gala captain Selcuk Inan and Ronaldinho. “We’ve met a lot of people, made friends and played football. I really loved the shooting and goalscoring activities and I learned a lot about fair play.”
The satisfaction was clear to see on everyone’s faces, though there was one last treat in store for the children who have helped make Turkey’s Grassroots week such a memorable event.
Making the relatively short journey to the Kadir Has Stadium in Kayseri, they were privileged spectators at the opening ceremony of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 and the tournament’s first two games, a well-deserved reward for them and for Turkish football as a whole.