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2023 in review: UEFA's commitment to developing the game

La UEFA Calcio di base

The past 12 months have seen new initiatives and continued investment to keep football growing across all 55 of our member associations.

Over 90 children celebrated Grassroots Week in Cyprus, testing their skills against several footballing legends
Over 90 children celebrated Grassroots Week in Cyprus, testing their skills against several footballing legends UEFA via Getty Images

All year round, developing football across Europe lies at the centre of UEFA's mission.

We help our 55 member national associations to strengthen all aspects of the beautiful game: build stadiums and training facilities, grow women’s football, run coach and referee courses, nurture young talent, strengthen governance, tackle discrimination, kick-start social responsibility initiatives and, above all, give everyone in Europe the chance to enjoy football.

In 2023, UEFA's funding, knowledge-sharing and expertise has led to a wide range of accomplishments across the continent. Below, we detail some of the highlights of yet another busy year in developing the game.

Nurturing the grassroots

UEFA's commitment to grassroots football shone brightly. In September, we announced an extension to our Football in Schools programme, which recognises the pivotal role of schools in introducing young children to the game. Launched in 2020, the programme is expected to give three million pupils the opportunity to play football in more than 80,000 schools across the continent by 2024.

To celebrate the €11m Football in Schools commitment, UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin joined 80 children in Cyprus with footballing legends Zvonimir Boban, Aljoša Asanović, Nadine Kessler and Luís Figo for a morning of fun games and friendly competition.

Legends meet children at Football in Schools event in Cyprus

UEFA President Alexander Čeferin:

"I often emphasise that football isn't only about elite-level play. While top-tier football is great and generates revenue to support initiatives like this, it's crucial to recognise the significance of football's essential values. The same values children can embrace from an early age by participating in the beautiful game of football."

The Cyprus event was the main focus of UEFA's annual Grassroots Week, which shines a light on the non-elite game and celebrates those who play for the love of the game.

In April, our Grassroots Awards provided an opportunity to honour some of the people, projects, associations and clubs bringing the game to life.

From inner-city kids coaches to programmes for the over-60s, and women's amputee players to support for Ukrainian refugees, we were delighted to showcase six worthy winners.

The 2022/23 UEFA Grassroots Awards winners

Best Professional Club: Olympique de Marseille (France)

Best Amateur Club: Ilves (Finland)

Best Social Initiative: Football Fitness Training Camp (Denmark)

Best Disability Initiative: Women's amputee football (Poland)

Best Participation Initiative: The Cyprus Football Association (CFA)

Special Award: The Football Association of Moldova (FMF)

In October, we were in Swedish capital Stockholm to launch an innovative new grassroots partnership with EA SPORTS FC, which combines digital gaming technology with real-life coaching tips for young players.

The announcement came with the launch of a free-to-access, online library of training drills for coaches, teachers and players to use in real-world sessions. Combined with tips and guidance from expert coaches, the library is designed to improve core football skills such as dribbling, passing, defending and finishing.

The initiative, which features 11 legends and coaches, was showcased at a special event attended by Sweden and Tottenham Hotspur winger, Dejan Kulusevski.

EA Sports x UEFA Grassroots

Did you know that 97% of UEFA's earnings go back into the game? Between 2020 and 2024, we are investing more than €1bn into football development projects across Europe.

Women's football: driving standards and understanding injuries

This autumn, UEFA took a significant step towards levelling the playing field for women’s football players across Europe by introducing a first-ever minimum standards framework for women’s national teams.

The framework establishes a pan-European benchmark for good governance, coaching, medical care, training, player welfare, accommodation and remuneration. The standards are based on extensive consultations with players, coaches and FIFPRO Europe.

The UEFA minimum standards for women’s national teams include:

• Full-time head coach with UEFA Pro Licence (or equivalent qualification) available at the national association

• Minimum one team doctor/two physiotherapists at all matches and training sessions

• Travel to match venues which prioritises the most direct route

• High-quality accommodation near training/match venues

• Maximum use of international windows

• Access to national training facilities, including elite equipment and professionally maintained pitches

• Players and association agreement on remuneration, parental and pregnancy policies and anti-discrimination

Approval of the framework marked another significant milestone in the implementation of Time for Action, our 2019–24 women’s strategy.

In December, UEFA introduced a new initiative to better understand anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in women's football.

This type of injury in the women’s game has been the subject of attention for a long time. The long-term goal of a dedicated UEFA women's health expert panel is to publish a consensus on ACL injury prevention and management by the summer of 2024, plus an up-to-date ACL injury prevention programme.

Coaching the coaches to success

September's UEFA Coach Education Conference was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the evolution of European football's coaching landscape.

As well as discussing coach education, the event focused on the specialised skills required for coaching goalkeepers and improving fitness, as well as the new UEFA Women's Football Competence Framework.

Launched this year, the framework’s core objective is to provide students taking UEFA coaching courses with greater insights into the demands and needs of female players.

Also in 2023, we kicked off the third iteration of UEFA's coach mentor programme. Ten up-and-coming female coaches have been paired with experienced partners, who can share their advice and insights from the top levels of the game.

UEFA Women's Coach of the Year Sarina Wiegman:

"It's really important that UEFA runs these events, because we want more women in the game, more female coaches. I think we have the responsibility to share things, and also to empower women who want to move up in in football. I think you need an extra push and an extra support, and that's exactly what this programme brings."

UEFA Coach Mentor Programme 2023/24

In early November, UEFA hosted our first Youth Football Forum in Slovenia – a gathering of technical and academy directors and youth coaches from both clubs and national teams.

Five European national associations – Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia – took part in the initiative, designed to foster a culture of continuous information exchange, learning and development within youth football coaching.

Recognised experts led a range of sessions and workshops dedicated to player development methodologies, sports psychology and effective communication techniques.

Playmakers: using Disney magic to get girls playing

In November, we announced a four-year extension to the hugely successful UEFA Playmakers programme, which has used the magic of Disney storytelling to introduce 73,000 young girls in Europe to football since 2020.

Playmakers is now active in 47 of UEFA's 55 associations, offering children a safe, fun and engaging pathway to get involved in the game from an early age.

UEFA Playmakers: Four more years of football magic!

"There is so much to love about the programme," says Nadine Kessler, UEFA's managing director for women's football. "The most important thing is that the girls really enjoy the sessions. The more fun they have, the more likely they are going to want to keep playing.

"The instantly recognisable Disney characters, along with Disney’s powerful marketing influence across Europe has helped us reach families and girls who were not involved in football before. We’re very proud of what has been achieved since 2020 and we’re so excited to look ahead to the next four years."

Be a Referee: finding the next generation of officials

In the summer, top officials Stéphanie Frappart and Michael Oliver helped us kick off our Be a Referee! campaign, which aims to recruit 40,000 new referees.

By highlighting referees' importance to the game, and raising awareness of what they do, the campaign hopes to inspire more young people to start a career as a match official.

"With the number of matches increasing we currently need around 277,000 officials in European football," says UEFA chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti, "but we are lacking almost 40,000 referees in order to have enough for the running of the game at grassroots level. This is why UEFA has decided to invest in a programme which supports the national associations in recruiting and retaining young referees."

Be a Referee!

UEFA Champions League officials showed their support for the initiative on matchday 4 of the group stage, wearing special campaign shirts, with dedicated calls to action also featured on TV broadcasts.

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