Ryan Giggs has raised yet another trophy and surely the last of a mammoth career. But perhaps more importantly, has he helped trigger a sleeping giant of global sport? A new futsal competition has generated unprecedented exposure across the world’s biggest news and social media channels, particularly in the English speaking world. Here in the UK, there’s been more media exposure for Premier Futsal than any futsal world cup or event has ever produced.
It’s reached the biggest football and sports media like Sky Sports and Goal.com, alongside mainstream media like The Daily Mail, Yahoo News, The Independent and the Mirror.
Premier Futsal is owned by wealthy businessmen and some of the team owners include actors and media or entertainment companies. They’ve attracted commercial partners like broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks from nothing.
Louis Figo is the President and figure head, and Indian Cricketer Virat Kohli has been a brand ambassador. As well as top professional international futsal players; Euro and World Champions from Spain and Italy, the league has also attracted some of the top footballers in the world; Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Hernan Crespo and Ronaldinho to name a few. They are going in strong with some of the best entertainment, footballers and sports stars in the world to draw attention to the league.
And whilst Ronaldinho, and probably Crespo, grew up crafting their technique and expressing themselves the South American way on a futsal court, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes probably knew little about it. There is the famous link that the Class of 92 went in-house 4v4s instead of 8v8s against other opposition. And Scholes has links to Stalybridge Celtic who partner Sala Soccer School where I coach, so maybe this was his first exposure to the sport?! He recently revealed that he played in China 18 months ago too. Like many in English speaking nations, he probably became a fan later in life and wish he had the opportunity as a kid to play.
So, all this high profile media and exposure must be fantastic for the sport of futsal, right?
Well, not quite. The answer is messy. I know, they say Messi is the answer for everything in football don’t they?! I’ll use this (latest) Indian example to explain.
As Indian Football Journalist Atanu Mitra put it so succinctly: “all this has not gone down well with the AIFF”. Shortly before the tournament began, the AIFF released a statement. “The AIFF is the governing body for all forms of Football, including Futsal, in India and we will be announcing our plans, in relation to Futsal, in due course.” The All Indian Football Federation is the governing body of football and futsal in India, affiliated to FIFA.
Why has this not gone down well with them? Well the group behind Premier Futsal are called the FAI – Futsal Association of India. Sounds legitimate, right? This group has nothing to do with the Indian Football Association, or FIFA. They are affiliated to AMF, an alternative global governing body to FIFA. Formed in 1971, it took 14 more years for FIFA to get involved. Both organisations still organise world cups in their own name.
There are parallels with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in India, launched around the same time as the Indian Premier League (IPL), about 10 years ago. Players were met with threats of sanctions and bans by the national governing bodies if they were involved in the rebel ICL which wasn’t affiliated to the national governing body. Shane Bond, a New Zealand cricketer and one of the world’s best bowlers at the time, chose to play in the rebel ICL. As a result, he didn’t play for New Zealand again for 18 months, and he only played for four more months when they did eventually let him back in, retiring from all cricket on 13 May 2010.
So why then, have a rebel organisation who have not done a great deal for futsal in India suddenly invested and created the most talked about competition in the (English speaking) world?
It’s worthy to note that this is a top heavy approach seeking an elite structure from the top, with no reserves, women, academy or grassroots to create a meaningful legacy for the game. I’m not aware of any plans or programmes in place to actively promote and build the sport from the ground up with programmes in schools and clubs for children.
However, they are doing far more than the Indian FA ever has for futsal awareness, which is ironic then that their response denouncing the league comes with the first news of sudden plans to do something about.
This is the environment that most sports, not just football, exist within. National organisations are affiliated to governing bodies. Unlike other industries or markets, all the best players need to be competing under the same banner for a true competition and to keep developing that talent pool. It’s not like a normal market where lots of competitors are a good thing.
With funding often received from government grants for the wellbeing and health that sport provides children especially, it’s like comparing the public sector to the private sector. The national football organisation in any country is just that and always will be. Privates are competing in the real market and can use it for their own profit, but aren’t guaranteed to exist into the future. Generally, they’ll be gone as soon as they don’t see any money to be made.
So although, in an ideal world, everyone would work under the banner of the national body, what happens when they aren’t doing enough? And what priority can we expect a football organisation to show for futsal? The cricket example is intriguing, with 20/20 becoming appealing to bigger markets and now seriously threatening the livelihood of test cricket. Why play a five day test with low attendance, when you could play five 20/20s with sold out stadia and even greater TV audiences.
As a result of the initial investment from the ICL and the IPL in what was an open and competitive environment, there has been a huge increase in sponsors, players and viewers. Maybe ICL was the catalyst for the governing bodies to do more to promote new sports, even though their success didn’t last as an organisation. They sparked a new sport that has taken cricket to new audiences and heights globally.
Which approach is best; private rebel organisations or national sport bodies? I’ve worked for a voluntary organisation growing the game from scratch in New Zealand, for the governing body as a development officer and coach education tutor, had sessions with a national team, worked for private coaching businesses and for football clubs in Hungary and England.
One approach I’ve always held on to was from one of my first mentors and inspirations in the game. Scott Gilligan hosted the first national team trials in New Zealand, and planted seeds of passion and service in me in that moment that will last a life time. He also said: “I am not adverse to these organisations, but as I am a FIFA Futsal Coaching Instructor so I prefer to work with organisations in this pathway, which in turn enables me opportunities to coach at future FIFA Futsal World Cups.”
Seems logical, let alone inspirational, doesn’t it?
So could Premier Futsal, the top heavy entertainment provider, provide the same catalyst for national football organisations to take action and grow futsal as a pathway and a professional sport in it’s own right from the grassroots to the elite?
Let’s hope so, because the viewing numbers show it’s what the world wants. National organisations also have sustainability and youth development and the core of their objectives, so are better placed to serve the bigger picture.
But if the governing bodies don’t supply what the market demands, there will be thousands of privates looking to take advantage.
And thus. The eternal dilemma of futsal.
Post your thoughts and experiences below, I’d love to hear them.