One of the highlights of the recent UEFA Grassroots Workshop in Hamburg was a presentation by Anders Levinsen, the leader of the Cross Cultures organisation, who provided a valuable update on the Open Fun Football Schools project.
'Fly with the football'
The humanitarian initiative aims to use football to promote the process of reconciliation, peace, stability and social cohesion in various post-conflict areas around Europe – with a focus on the Balkans and Caucasus regions – and Levinsen was quick to emphasise the inclusive nature of the project. His initial video presentation prominently featured the phrases: "a brick in the wall", "take a look at this world", "play through frontiers" and, repeatedly, "just fly with the football".
Launched ten years ago, Cross Cultures' Open Fun Football Schools project operates across former front lines and involves a five-day community-based school for a minimum of 200 children aged seven to eleven. "We want to be open wherever we go," Levinsen said. "We want to use football as a meeting place to bring children and adults together, and to bring football to people who cannot afford to play it." Although the initial goal was to bring children and adults together, Levinsen explained that the project has since become more ambitious: "That's not enough – we also want to leave a structure behind. We want to put in place a model of sustainability."
'Child in centre'
The point was illustrated with a diagram entitled The Children's Football Universe. Levinsen underlined that "the child is at the centre – we believe it is the environment which connects children to our game." While parents, coach, school and football club have the strongest impact, the next "ring of the galaxy" entails the local community – municipality, local partners, local media and local sponsors – with important institutions such as national and regional associations, ministry of youth and sports, and international partners furthest away from the child. Participation in the scheme is increasing every year – up from 12 Open Fun Football Schools in 1998 to 138 last year – with Levinsen adding: "We operate in all areas of grassroots football. The momentum we had in the beginning to set the ball rolling we now see in girls' football.
"The challenge for us now is how we phase out," concluded Levinsen. "There's a time for organisations like ours, but there is a point when football organisations have to take over." The Football Association of Serbia has agreed to integrate the Open Fun Football Schools project into its grassroots department. This 'phase in' example will make the project sustainable for years to come. Cross Cultures will take care of quality control and will continue to train school leaders and coaches.
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