An exhibition set up by the UEFA Foundation was on view to the record crowds who have turned out to watch matches at the UEFA Futsal EURO final tournament in Serbia.
The host nation’s games have been attracting sell-out attendances and huge numbers of the visitors to the Belgrade Arena have been pausing to look at a collection of photographs that reflect conditions at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, where the UEFA Foundation has embarked on a football-inspired project to make life more bearable for the children living in a ‘camp’ which has evolved into a township of almost 80,000 inhabitants.
The thousands of visitors who have seen the exhibition have included organised visits by groups of schoolchildren who have been involved in the legacy and sustainability projects that UEFA has pegged to Europe’s premier futsal event. Among them was a group of 40 young pupils from the Dositej Obradovic school – one of the eight institutions from the Novi Sad area who participated in the UEFA project. There was a good deal of discussion and banter about which of the photographs made the most impact. Goran, one of the youngsters who had travelled in with the group, spoke for many when he commented “there is a photograph with a bicycle that I liked very much. I would love to meet those children and to play football with them. Maybe their team against ours. And then we could make all different kinds of teams together. That would be really nice.”
The visit was one of a number organised by Igor Janković, director of grassroots football at the football association of Serbia. He told the children the stories behind the photographs – the realities of a harsh life in the desert under precarious living conditions. “One thing that can make them happy,” he told them, “is the opportunity to enjoy some football”. However, the key factor for the children who visited the exhibition was the take-home message behind the photographs. “Sport helps people to face and overcome various difficulties in life,” Janković told the pupils from Novi Sad. “It can also give you confidence and friends. Those children at the refugee camp show you that football can be very useful and helpful in life.”
Another important part of the project linked to UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 was a grassroots futsal competition in which the ‘winning’ boys and girls were selected according to fair play principles rather than results. The climax was a final tournament involving some 700 children, played on the day before the semi-finals at the Belgrade Arena where, of course, they had the chance to see the striking UEFA Foundation exhibition of photographs from the Za’atari refugee camp which they had been told about at their schools.