Friday 21 July 2023, 08:00

Football for Schools is changing education in Darwin

  • Football for Schools was launched in Australia between 16-18 July

  • The festivities took place in Darwin, in the Northern Territory

  • The event preceded the kick-off of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™

South Australia is world-renowned as a place to relax, teeming with wildlife and natural wonders. Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne are the showcase cities of this unmissable region. It's no coincidence therefore that all five were also selected to host matches at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™.

The Football for Schools programme arrived in Australia after winning the hearts of children in more than 60 different FIFA member associations to date. As in all previous locations, Football for Schools (F4S) aims to make football more accessible for girls and boys, while strengthening the education system through the values of sport. Darwin was chosen as the starting point in Australia. Not by chance.

The city is the capital of the Northern Territory, a vast area of over 1,300,000 km2 with a population of just 250,000. Almost half of the land is Aboriginal (48%) and despite its often-paradisiacal appearance, the region is characterised by extreme problems of marginalisation, poverty, disease and violence. These are all scourges that F4S is seeking to combat.

"The launch of F4S in Australia was a very special event. It means a lot to FIFA and to me as an African," explained Fatimata Sidibe, FIFA Director of Football for Schools. "The northern territories of Australia have many similarities in terms of traditions with Africa and my country of origin, Mali.

"Before coming to Australia, we had heard about the richness of the culture, the huge saltwater crocodiles, the endless stretches of pristine desert and the perfect pastel sunsets. But in the last few days, what we saw and experienced went far beyond what we could have imagined. I'm delighted the launch took place in this historic part of Australia," she added.

After theoretical and practical sessions for educators and trainers - exceptionally joined by the children - the official launch of the programme took place on 18 July in a friendly and festive atmosphere.

Life skills and football philosophy

Under the watchful eye of their parents and the guidance of their coaches, around a hundred children took part in a series of fun training exercises and matches. The aim: to introduce them to the philosophy of football while instilling social skills and essential values. Alongside the F4S festivities, Australian Cup matches - Newcastle Jets FC against Melbourne Victory FC; and Perth Glory FC against Macarthur FC - were held in Darwin, providing a great opportunity to enjoy some football before the kick-off of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

"The joy of the children, the pride and hope of the parents when they saw their offspring play, the satisfaction of the educators and coaches, the interest of the Northern Territory authorities and the sense of duty fulfilled by the F4S team in welcoming another FIFA member association into our F4S family were all priceless," said Fatimata Sididé. "So many steps were taken in these three days, towards the development and integration of educational values in football.”

However, here is still a long way to go, and many challenges remain. "Due to a number of factors such as geographical remoteness, security risks and a lack of indigenous coaches and educators, it has been very difficult to offer school programmes to schools in the Northern Territory," says Alexandra Huete, FIFA Football for Schools Manager.

"However, thanks to the cooperation between Football Australia and Football Northern Territory, Football for Schools could prove to be a turning point for children and teachers in this remote part of Australia," she added. "This programme is a way to learn valuable life skills. It provides schools, communities, local clubs and governments with the right tools to deliver football and life skills lessons."

While these courses will initially only be delivered in the Northern Territory, the programme is set to spread across Australia in the coming months. "The launch of Football for Schools in the Northern Territory is a special one, as it will certainly help to make football more accessible to the Territory's remote communities, encouraging education and supporting the development of young people," said Antonio Buenaño, Football for Schools Manager.

"We can't wait to see the impact the programme can have on young people in the Northern Territory," said James Johnson, CEO of Football Australia. "The vast majority of schools are in very remote areas. We'll make sure we keep in touch with their students and offer them the opportunity to get involved in football, enjoying the many benefits our sport can bring: the health and wellbeing it improves, the friendships it creates, and the communities it brings together."

Niko Nhouvannasak, fellow Football for Schools Manager concluded: "The close collaboration between the Northern Territory Government, schools, the private sector, Football Australia, Football Northern Territory and FIFA is proof of a strong bond, true teamwork and a commitment to bringing smiles to all children and spreading the spirit of football in disadvantaged communities.”