There can be no denying that futsal has enjoyed continuous and remarkable growth over the past decade. Solid proof of that trend comes in the form of increased numbers both of registered players and leagues now run under FIFA rules – factors that have had a direct impact on improved standards in both domestic and international competitions.
Further evidence of this leap in standards was on display at the last FIFA Futsal World Cup, arguably the most evenly matched edition to date, as well as the quantity of emerging nations making a splash in the discipline. In its quest to continue the sport’s evolution in the most organised way possible, the FIFA Executive Committee, at its meeting of 18 and 19 December 2014 in Marrakech, approved something that world football’s governing body has long sought: the first ever futsal international match calendar, which covers the period of 2016-2020.
“It’s like this, the global growth of futsal means that a unified calendar has become indispensable,” said Jaime Yarza, Event Manager for the FIFA Futsal World Cup, when speaking to FIFA.com. “Everyone involved in the sport – FIFA, the confederations, associations, leagues, clubs, players, sponsors, media – needs to be able to plan for the sporting season in advance. And being able to do that for the next two or three years is better than for just one.
“There are so many factors that meant that it [a unified calendar] was now essential,” continued Yarza. “You have to prepare budgets, define TV slots, confirm activities for sponsors, build loyalty among clubs’ fans by having well-structured seasons… There are so many benefits to having a unified calendar that it’s hard to explain them in just a few words.”
Javier Lozano, who twice coached Spain to FIFA Futsal World Cup glory and is currently the President of the Liga Española de Fútbol Sala, backed up Yarza’s views. “This calendar is a big help for our clubs and for futsal across the globe: finally we can make concrete plans,” he told FIFA.com. “Safeguarding clubs, players and international competitions is essential for taking this sport to the very highest level.”
The new calendar, whose opening cycle will include the next two FIFA Futsal World Cups, is based around players’ mandatory release to their national teams, depending on the various stages of international competition. “We’ve tried to take into account the interests of all parties. First of all, we’ve set aside 12-day windows for the final stages of the confederations’ senior national-team championships. Now confederations will be able to properly prepare both their competitions and specific sponsorship programs. It even makes choosing host nations easier,” added Yarza, in reference to events such as the UEFA Futsal EURO and the Copa America de Futsal.
In addition to the final stages of confederations’ championships and the FIFA Futsal World Cup, the calendar also includes two international windows, called Type I and Type II. “The first type lasts for ten days, during which national teams can play up to four friendly matches, but which can also be used to carry out fund-raising events or extended periods of preparation, for example for the World Cup,” explained Yarza. “The second type is for four days and allows no more than two matches. Again, it will be up to the associations to decide how they make use of the time.
“It’s taken a huge amount of work in terms of coordination, since it has required bringing together the interests of many parties,” admitted Yarza. “We’d like to thank everybody, the confederations, associations, leagues, clubs and players, for their understanding. We’ve tried to take into account the needs of all of the world’s regions.”
Though satisfied with the step taken, Yarza signed off by emphasising that the calendar remains a work in progress: “We’re pleased to say that this [calendar] has put the defence of the sport and its stars – the players – first. In any case, in the knowledge that nothing is perfect, in 2017 we will speak to all parties again to discuss if any changes are required.”
NOTE: The calendar and corresponding circular are available for download in PDF format in the ‘Related Items’ section beside this article.