Boosting East European football participation

UEFA has gathered 14 East European member associations and national senior government officials at a keynote summit in Tbilisi, Georgia, to look at how to increase participation levels.

Youngsters playing football in Belarus
Youngsters playing football in Belarus ©BFF

The crucial challenge of increasing participation in football in Eastern Europe has been the focal point of a keynote UEFA GROW summit, ‘Growing Participation in Eastern Europe’, hosted this week by the Georgian Football Federation (GFF) in Tbilisi.

An in-depth analysis on how to successfully foster the game’s future growth in this part of the continent featured 14 national associations ─ Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine.

The group photo from the Tbilisi summit
The group photo from the Tbilisi summit©GFF

The summit analysed why mass participation in sport, and football in particular, is much lower in Eastern Europe than in the rest of the continent.

The aim was to find solutions together to challenges that are particular to the national associations in Eastern Europe in getting more people playing football, creating a better understanding of grassroots in the region and generating greater support to drive participation growth.

The Estonian delegation receives invaluable advice
The Estonian delegation receives invaluable advice©GFF

Consequently, association presidents and general secretaries were joined by high-level representatives from government sports and education ministries, as well as delegates from the Council of Europe.

This was the first regional summit of its kind held as part of UEFA GROW, a programme to support national associations in developing football at all levels across Europe.

“Through UEFA GROW,” said UEFA’s national associations director Zoran Lakovic, “we realised there were low participation rates in Eastern Europe, and that it was a challenge particular to the region.”

Figures presented in Tbilisi demonstrated the low levels of participation, and the negative effect that this was having not only on success on the international stage, but also on commercial revenues.

The GROW conference brought together 14 national associations, senior government officials and various key experts
The GROW conference brought together 14 national associations, senior government officials and various key experts©GFF

Key issues include the lack of accurate participation data, grassroots philosophy, insights into players’ wants and needs, and structures to deliver a clear participation growth strategy.

Furthermore, delegates heard that although half of the total population of UEFA’s territory comes from the 14 countries represented in Tbilisi, the overall percentage of the population that are registered players within these countries is dramatically lower than in the rest of the UEFA territory.

“The objectives of the summit were to fully understand the participation challenges faced by our national associations in Eastern Europe – to find solutions together,” Lakovic explained, “so that more people in the region will get the opportunity to play our game right across Eastern Europe.”

Tbilisi has previously hosted a major UEFA event - the 2015 UEFA Super Cup
Tbilisi has previously hosted a major UEFA event - the 2015 UEFA Super Cup©UEFA

Among the next steps, UEFA will support the national associations with even better data to demonstrate the ‘business case’ for investment in grassroots, while working to create a positive effect on policy at the highest European Union/Council of Europe levels.

In addition, participation growth will be even more strategically driven through UEFA GROW. The associations clarified their need for greater alignment with government objectives and policy – ensuring as a result that they could work in partnership to grow sports activity in general, and football participation in particular.

The national associations also confirmed their commitment to grassroots football and ensuring that structures are in place to deliver participation growth.