Making grassroots football a space of inclusion

Making grassroots football a space of inclusion

The TACKLE Project hosted a ground-breaking conference on combating racism, discrimination and intolerance in grassroots football on the 23rd June 2023. The conference, organized by the UEFA Foundation for Children in UEFA’s Headquarters in Nyon, featured high-profile speakers with longstanding experience and involvement in football, who shared their insights and views on the power of the sport as a force of change towards inclusion, respect, and diversity.

Embracing a three-year journey, supported by the EU Erasmus+ programme, the UEFA Foundation for Children warmly welcomed the TACKLE conference at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon. The event aimed to champion inclusivity and tackle racism in non-professional football. By specifically focusing on coaches and managers in grassroots football clubs, the project effectively raises awareness, fosters competence, and develops strategies to eradicate racism from the beautiful game. With a comprehensive approach at its core, this inspiring initiative aspires to create a lasting impact on players, grassroots football, and the wider sporting community.

The conference was headlined by Clarence Seedorf, a legend of football, who emphasised the importance of communicating the right messages in and through football by putting inclusion in the spotlight all the time. He stressed that “If we want to make change happen, we need to be a part of that change and we need to be seating on those seats where we can have a voice and where we can share the thoughts of the people, because many times the most important solutions will come exactly from the grassroots…We need to start acting with the solutions and we will make mistakes. Things might work out might not work out, but it’s better to move in a certain direction that we know is far away from where we are today and in the right direction as well.”

Clarence Seedorf – Using football as a platform to promote inclusion

He also highlighted the pivotal role coaches play in football and its bid to tackle racism, noting that they “need to make the youth players aware of the values of sports. Sports is the best tool to really guide youth and to develop their brain and to develop their character so if we do all of that properly we will indirectly be tackling the issue. So, if we talk so much about racism, let’s talk about how to be more human, what is friendship, what is teamwork, this is what I learnt when I was younger. These were the things that they were putting on us every single time.”

Following, CARDET’s Executive Director, Dr Charalambos Vrasidas joined the stage to present the rationale and objectives of the work done through the TACKLE Project in its bid to empower football coaches to become active agents in promoting inclusion in football. He noted that the project, implemented in 6 European countries, responded to the increasing calls for action to address the rising numbers of discriminatory incidents in grassroots football.  Furthermore, he elaborated on its focus on coaches noting that “Building capacity of coaches, football managers, youth workers working with youth and at youth clubs is so important as youth and players are heavily impacted and tend to emulate their behaviour and approach.” He also presented the free resources and tools developed by the project, to help coaches and managers of grassroots football clubs to elevate their knowledge and skills in the field. Said tools are available here.

The Value of Football in shaping a better world

Moreover, the conference featured presentations from Olivier Doglia, UEFA’s Senior Officer in Elite Youth player Development, and Emilio Hernandez, coach of a local youth football club – FC Prangins. In his presentation, Mr Doglia reiterated the important role coaches play in player development and most importantly in promoting and instilling the values of the football to young players and foster inclusion. From his part, he showcased his experiences and the approaches promoted via his club to ensure an open space that encourage and promote the participation of young children in football. The conference concluded with a panel discussion, during which all the speakers took questions and exchanged views on tackling racism in football.

The Conference was organized as part of the workings of the TACKLE Project that is financed by the Erasmus+ programme. Led by CARDET, the project brought together a consortium of 7 organizations from 6 European countries – KMOP (Greece), Spectrum Research Centre (Ireland), the FARE network (Netherlands), the University of Pitesti (Romania), Institute of Development (Cyprus), and the UEFA Foundation for Children. This project put forward a multidisciplinary and holistic approach in addressing racism, discrimination, and intolerance in grassroots football, engaging football professionals and organizations across the continent to develop resources and tools to empower those at the forefront to operate as active agents in making football a welcoming space for all.