Saturday 11 February 2023, 13:12

Football for Schools strengthens formative role of sport among Ecuador youth

  • The ambitious programme will involve 500 schools across Ecuador

  • FIFA trained 50 instructors during a two-day seminar

  • Over 100 children from Guayaquil took part in the launch festival

During the launch festival for the Football for Schools Programme in Ecuador, a ten-year-old boy approached the instructor, Orly Salas, and told him he was tired. He had just participated in six of the nine on-pitch activity stations and explained that, because he rarely exercised, he was feeling the pace a little. “No problem, but I'm going to ask you to help me with something,” a smiling Salas replied. “From this moment on, you’re the ‘assistant teacher’, and I need you to sit here and tell me the names of your team-mates, so that I can call their names out and throw them the ball.” Salas subsequently told “I did that because no child should ever be excluded. The aim is always to include them in some way, be it that boy or any child who has a problem or a different ability, really. That’s part of our job as teachers, coaches or educators.”

Event participant Orly Salas is seen with FIFA Football for Schools Manager Alexandra Huete

Salas is one of the 50 instructors trained by FIFA during the recent seminar held on 7 and 8 February at the traditional Vicente Rocafuerte school in Guayaquil. It was there, where so many Ecuadorian sporting figures and celebrities have emerged over the years, that the festival – which brought together more than 100 children from the area – was also held. Ecuador is the fourth South American country to adopt the wide-ranging programme, which will be rolled out to 500 schools across the nation by the inclusion of football in the school curriculum. For the 51-year-old Salas, who has become a trailblazer for women’s football during his 25-year teaching career at Rocafuerte, an establishment that was formerly exclusively male, the implementation of Football for Schools is an important step. “For a while, sport was no longer at the heart of children’s education here, and that’s why we now have problems like obesity and sedentary lifestyles,” he said. “And while there were initiatives held in institutions or private clubs, this programme will enable us to reach all regions, taking kids off the street and providing them with values for life. There is no other sport with more popularity or reach than football.”

Alexandra Huete Ramos, Football for Schools Manager and one of the FIFA representatives running the seminar, also highlighted the role that the programme can play in Ecuador, where sport was declared a state policy in 2022. “In my view, the fact that the government decided to promote sport as a tool for development and inclusion just a few months ago and that, at the same time, FIFA saw Ecuador as an ideal candidate for Football for Schools, is a historic milestone,” she said. “As far as FIFA is concerned, it’s a privilege to be able to, through this programme, help lay the foundations for such a significant process.” Drug addiction, secondary school drop-out rates and gender-based violence are just some of the social challenges facing young people in Ecuador. “Football for Schools can help to keep children in school under these circumstances,” added Huete Ramos. “We work on these issues with kids aged four to 14, playing mixed-gender football. Values such as respect, equality and conflict resolution are the foundation of the methodology.”

Authorities are seen during the launch of the FIFA Football for Schools program in Ecuador

The official presentation was attended by, among others, Sebastian Palacios, Ecuadorian Minister of Sport, Selim Doumet, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF), Nicolas Solines, General Secretary of the FEF, Martin Ortega, rector of Vicente Rocafuerte School, Jeremy Rubio, deputy secretary of Guayaquil Education Zone 8, and Carlos Tenorio, former Ecuador national team stalwart. “We enjoyed an intense two-day celebration that combined football and education, with joyful teachers and children, who will be the beneficiaries of this wonderful FIFA project,” said Fernando Bocca, FEF Director of Development. Of the 50 educators who completed the training course, 20 were women. “The Ministry of Education provided 30 of the trainees; they’re Physical Education teachers who cover all sporting disciplines,” explained Tatiana Burgos, FEF Development Coordinator. “Another ten are part of 'Hinchas de mi barrio', a government project that seeks to introduce football in deprived areas. And the remaining ten are instructors from the Federation's training institutes.”

“Due to the effort and commitment shown by the participants during the course, we are very confident that they will be able to start implementing this programme, which will likely help the children of Ecuador a tremendous amount,” said Antonio Sanchez Buenano, FIFA Football for Schools Manager. “Strengthening this values-based education is fundamental.” And those participants will now be in charge of training the educators, coaches and teachers working with children in their regions and neighbourhoods, with the help of a mobile app that has been developed especially for the programme. A confident Salas was keen to stress that the work ahead of them “will have a significant impact.” He concluded: “By rescuing children from vulnerable situations, it will provide a vision and a sense of hope to their lives, helping them to become the kind of people who live by certain values, which they themselves will pass onto others through their actions.”