Faroe Islands, Luxemburg, England; UEFA’s non-Futsal nations

Reading Royals Futsal Club in action. Photo: Ade Hone.
Reading Royals Futsal Club in action. Photo: Ade Hone.

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It’s been a rollercoaster few weeks for anyone involved with futsal in England. After months of playing outside in the cold on sandy AstroTurf, concrete and thankless tarmac surfaces, on September 17th the FA finally announced new ‘return to play’ guidelines which would allow futsal as we know it to continue, indoors.

Clubs rushed to get their bookings at local leisure centres and schools back, completed their risk assessments and got ready to play ‘proper’ futsal again. With this announcement came an air of optimism, and a number of England’s futsal leagues even began discussing potential start dates with member clubs.

Fast forward five days and the PM announces the ‘rule of six.’ It’s confirmed that although youth futsal can continue indoors, adult teams would not be so fortunate. With facility prices as they are (ludicrous), it became clear that adult futsal would have to continue outside for the considerable future. I’m sure there’ll be a few people reading this who think ‘why is that a problem?’

Firstly, everyone knows what the British weather is like in Autumn/ Winter; Playing on concrete, AstroTurf and tarmac courts gets dangerous when there’s torrential rain and ice. This leads to cancelled sessions and often wasted money – something which is particularly problematic for many futsal clubs who work tirelessly to keep their heads above water financially. On top of that, the uncertainty surrounding the return of competitive futsal indoors has put league planning back into turmoil, with the FA National Futsal Series and National Futsal League both unable to confirm start dates.

Of course, everyone’s health must take priority, but it’s disheartening for players and club officials who have put in so much work in preparation for a season that may never come.

So, it couldn’t have been looking more bleak for futsal in England.

It got bleaker.

Later that week, rumours began to circulate on Twitter that the FA was preparing an announcement which would not only cut futsal funding almost completely but would also see the national team set-up dissolved. Sure enough, the next day the FA announced that ‘funding will no longer be provided for elite England Futsal teams and will significantly reduce for grassroots Futsal from this season onwards.’ The reasons being cited as ‘unavoidable budget cuts’ and having to support the women’s and men’s football teams ‘in their efforts to win major tournaments.’

In the statement, the FA say that they are planning for losses of approximately £300m due to COVID-19. I’m not belittling the fact that this is a big loss and I know that the FA have made a number of cuts across the organisation, letting some fantastic people go. However, surely there are other areas where the FA could cut back, without decimating an entire sport?

I’ll take off my futsal player hat and think purely financially here; It’s costs the FA around £300,000 to run the international futsal teams (men’s senior, U21s and U19s) and in 2019, they spent around £900,000 total on futsal from international level to grassroots – around 0.2% of their entire operating expenditure. Will that 0.2% really make any tangible difference in the England football teams winning trophies? My honest opinion? Categorically no.

The men’s (now ex) international team seem to think the same. In response to the news and following their meeting with the FA, they released a statement which, among other things, stated that ‘this is not simply a budget cut, this is a total collapse of the international player pathway and an attack on futsal as a sport.’ They also raised concerns about how the decision was made. FA representatives were unable to answer several of the team’s questions regarding this, and they were instead signposted to FA CEO Mark Bullingham and Technical Director Les Reed. Since then, they have been unable to get real answers from either – with meeting requests seemingly ignored.

At the same time as English futsal is getting sucked down the plughole, other countries are putting in the groundwork to #GrowTheGame (pardon the ironic FA hashtag). In France, they’re currently creating a brand new futsal academy in Lyon to support top young talent. In Germany, they are preparing for the first ever season of the futsal Bundesliga in 2021/22. And last but not least, the Spanish RFEF (FA equivalent) announced an 8 million Euro funding package to support the sport. It’s not just the big nations that value futsal though. Out of the 55 UEFA members, there are currently only 5 without international futsal teams, and when the England teams are dissolved, we’ll be joining the ranks of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and the Republic of Ireland. Not a group that I want to be part of when it comes to futsal…

But the futsal community isn’t taking this lying down. Players, coaches and clubs have been sharing their photos, memories and best bits on Twitter using the #FutsalForAll hashtag, and tagging Oliver Dowden (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), the FA and Sport England in all posts to try and pile on the pressure. A petition to ‘Save Futsal’ has also been launched, which has over 4,000 signatures so far – more is needed though, so add yours if you’d like to see futsal potentially make a miraculous comeback.

There’s an unbelievable group of people at the heart of futsal in England, and they are working tremendously hard to try and secure the future of the sport for generations to come. This should be something that the FA is doing, and by prioritising football and giving futsal the cold shoulder, they are discrediting the hard work of every single futsal player in England.

Let’s hope a U-turn is on the cards – we’ve seen them enough in the last few months…

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