（Photo by Tencent Sports）
As the UEFA EURO 2016 is now in full swing, France, as the host country, has been in the football spotlight once again for the past week not only in Europe but also across the world.
With 24 European countries competing in the tournament for the first time, France is leading the way to implement its “EURO 2016 Legacy Program” around the tournament and grow football both at professional and grassroots level.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Victoriano Melero, Head of the “President Cabinet” and Deputy CEO at the French Football Federation (FFF), the governing body of football in France. We talked about the FFF’s role in the UEFA EURO 2016 journey and their efforts to leave a legacy after the tournament. Also he shared with us his vision on the China-France football connection.
The role of FFF and grassroots football
Despite the fact that UEFA and the EURO 2016 Organizing Committee have been leading the way in the preparatory work for the tournament, the FFF have also made efforts to guarantee the “Legacy Program” around the tournament and then further develop the sport across the country.
“In respect of The French Football Federation, we are involved in two projects. The first one is about the recruitment of volunteers, so there will be 6,500 volunteers in the 10 (hosting) cities.”
Melero went on to say that volunteers are also very important in grassroots football. “The FFF has more than 400,000 volunteers looking after the kids at weekends.”
“The second project is the Legacy Program, and it is a project of around €40m dedicated to the subject of clubs and grassroots (football). More than €30m was set aside to improve the facilities.” However, Melero told us that the fund was not for building stadiums or pitches. The idea was really to help smaller local clubs to improve and spend more time on the sport.
In addition to the volunteering project and the Legacy Program, there is another type of project that the FFF has been involved in helping grow the sport across the country. Financing the training of football coaches is what the FFF has been doing over the last two years, during which the Federation has managed to finance the training of over 50,000 football coaches.
EURO 2016 Legacy for French professional football
Besides the projects to support grassroots football, the stadia projects around EURO 2016 are bringing France good opportunities to boost the professional league. And above all, the tournament is having a significant impact on several French clubs in terms of their stadiums.
“Thanks to EURO 2016, we’ll have 4 new stadiums along with the existing ones. We’ll have the stadiums with all of the services including hospitality, offering (French) clubs a new way to increase their revenues,” Melero said.
Moreover, the tournament will generate more interest in football and attract more spectators to football games, he continued.
China-France tie in football
Off the pitch, it is really about the legacy to be left after EURO 2016 as a result of efforts to grow football both at professional and grassroots level. More importantly, the FFF is seeking opportunities to bring the experience to China to help grow the sport here.
Although China is yet to hold a FIFA World Cup, the hope is high that the world’s best international football tournament will be awarded to the country within one or two decades.
“We’ve really noticed not only the wish of President Xi but also all the government and people who really love the sport, to be a football nation within ten, twenty or thirty years,” Melero said. “We know that you can organize a World Cup, if you want to organize a World Cup, (even) tomorrow is not a problem.”
However, to hold a FIFA World Cup is one thing, but to become a real football nation is another. Melero suggested “To be able to win a World Cup in twenty years, you need to reorganize your professional league because the image of football, in terms of promotional football, is important.”
Then China also needs to grow grassroots football and have appropriate training programmes for kids. From Melero’s perspective, the growing interest in football across China and the will to build a football nation bring opportunities to re-establish the image of the sport in the country through governmental efforts and partnerships. In this regard, as an official of FFF, Melero believes they “can have terrific partnerships with Chinese partners.”
The FFF has already signed a MOU with the Chinese Football Association earlier in March. As Melero revealed, the idea is to set up projects to help China re-establish the image of football and invest in schools. As the FFF has achieved success in their “My EURO 2016” Program at 5,000 French schools, they believe this is an approach which can help China to grow the sport. As well as other potential partnerships, the FFF is also seeking opportunities to work with emerging sports companies in China. They are now in discussions with Le Sports, for instance, to build training programmes with them on campuses.
Apart from the potential partnerships on grassroots football, Melero believes “it is a good opportunity for Chinese investors (to involve themselves in French football clubs)” as “today French clubs are more affordable than English or Spanish football clubs.” More importantly, the academies of French clubs should be highlighted given that the number of football stars raised in French clubs is enormous.
As the governing body of football in France, the FFF is also working closely with France’s professional league. As Melero said, they have had discussions with the French Professional League about opening a permanent office here in China in order to secure long term partnerships in this market. By doing this, it would be easier for the likes of Paris Saint-Germain FC (PSG) to play pre-season matches in China in the future.
Above all, France is a real leading football nation both in terms of the trophies won and in hosting major football events. The role that the French Football Federation is playing in the development of football in France is phenomenal. With China’s eagerness to renew the image of football in the country, the French might be leading the way in football investment in Chinese schools.
Proofread by Sean O Diobhilin