Saturday 11 March 2023, 09:00

Southeast Asia primed for Football for Schools lift-off

  • Football for Schools workshop conducted for Southeast Asian nations this week

  • Hosted by FIFA and Singapore (FAS), who introduced the programme last weekend

  • Programme aims to help children develop through the power of football

Southeast Asia is not only one of the most populace regions in the world, but it boasts its own special fervour for the world game. One only needs to see the packed stadiums and wildly colourful crowds at the biennial AFF Championship to understand there is something special bubbling along in this part of the world. With that in mind, FIFA are aiming to give young footballers in the region every opportunity to gain a foothold in the game. A wide-ranging workshop was held this week in Singapore introducing the concept and value of FIFA’s ambitious Football for Schools [F4S] programme. Singapore kick-started their own F4S programme just last weekend. FIFA’s Football for Schools is run in collaboration with UNESCO and aims to contribute to the education, development and empowerment of some 700 million children worldwide. It seeks to make football more accessible but, equally importantly, the programme is designed to promote life skills and competencies through the sport.

FIFA Football for Schools (F4S) workshop for AFF nations, Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore (Images courtesy Football Association of Singapore)

The Asean Football Federation (AFF) features 12 members and stretches from Australia at its eastern end to those nations situated on Mainland Southeast Asia. Aside from the hosts, participants in the workshop were Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, plus guests Hong Kong, Japan, Korea Republic, Japan and Macau. The purpose of the two-day workshop was to introduce the programme, administrative processes, world governing body assistance and much more. Among the presenters were Fatimata Sow Sidibe, Director FIFA Football for Schools; Sanjeevan Balasingam, Director FIFA Member Associations Asia & Oceania; Niwat Limsukniru, Chairperson of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting in Sport (SOMS); and FIFA Football for Schools instructors Alexandra Huete and Antonio Buenaño. Fatimata Sidibe, Director Football for Schools said: “We are very pleased and grateful for the opportunity to share our vision about F4S with 15 Member Associations from Southeast and East Asia, which represents a significant number of the population in the world. “The enthusiasm and dedication of these MAs will have a decisive social impact in this dynamic and diverse part of the globe. We are looking forward to working hand in hand with our MAs to lay the foundation for the next generations to come.”

FIFA Football for Schools Regional Workshop - Members from several delegations in practical training session

The workshop follows a 2019 landmark agreement between FIFA and ASEAN designed around strategies to promote healthy lifestyles and inclusive participation in football. Alexandra Huete, Manager Football for Schools said: “Despite Southeast Asia’s diversity and the tensions that persist in the region, sport has proven to be able to transcend some geopolitical barriers and connect communities. “We hope that, thanks to this workshop, both governments and federations will find the key to effective collaboration and be successful in bringing football to children in their respective countries. This event has also served as an opportunity to strengthen the cooperation between FIFA and ASEAN that started in 2019 with the signing of a MoU, where Football for Schools is one of the main pillars.” Antonio Buenaño, Manager Football for Schools added: “This was a very fruitful workshop in which the different stakeholders of the participating delegations could sit down at the same table and discuss the possibilities of implementing F4S in their respective countries. “Having agreements and working alongside is crucial for the future of the programme in the region. The FIFA F4S app, which translates into more than 30 languages, adds an extra value to some initiatives already existing in some of the countries.”

FIFA Football for Schools (F4S) workshop for AFF nations, Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore (Images courtesy Football Association of Singapore)

One of the key elements of F4S is allowing more girls to access the game. That facet is particularly relevant just a few months out from the first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup™ to take place in one of the region’s Member Associations. “It’s been amazing to meet other countries and learn from them, but also to showcase what they have done in grassroots football,” said Laura Jones, General Manager of Community (Head of Member Federations and Community Programs) at Football Australia. “It’s such an exciting time in 2023 with the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming to Australia, and this app helps us leverage the event, so with the momentum and excitement that will be in Australia, we can capitalise that interest among women and girls. While the World Cup is on, we hope there is further increase in interest in sport among girls, increased opportunities for them as well.”

Buoyed by the initial local roll-out of F4S last weekend, Gerard Christopher, Deputy General Secretary of the Football Association of Singapore said: “In the conversations I’ve had with our colleagues from the different Member Associations, they have looked at what we did and we are looking to further collaborate to help each other. “It was a well-organised workshop, engaging participants and providing a clear path forward for all involved. At the end of the two days, the participants are leaving with whatever clarity that they needed in regards pursuing the ambitions of F4S, and I think they are on the right track in continuing such efforts in their respective countries.” Masahiro Sugiyama, AFC Senior Manager Grassroots Football added: “I was glad to see participants' enthusiasm in promoting football in schools in their respective countries/regions. I hope the FIFA Football for Schools programme will support our Member Associations and related stakeholders to provide as many children as possible with an opportunity to enjoy football while learning life skills.”