Grassroots football in England will be boosted by £180m worth of investment over the next four years to help it get back on its feet after the disruption caused by the pandemic.
The Football Association is committing the funding despite predicting total losses of £300m due to the Covid-19 crisis, as part of a new strategy for the grassroots game called 'Survive, Revive, Thrive'.
The strategy has been launched to coincide with the easing of lockdown restrictions to allow outdoor sports to return from Monday.
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James Kendall, the FA's director of football development, said: "The FA's commitment to grassroots football has remained resolute and this strategy is a clear demonstration of our long-term ambitions, which will ultimately play a role in improving the health and well-being of millions of individuals across the nation. This new strategy aims to ensure the grassroots game in England will survive, revive and thrive over the next four years.
Survive, Revive, Thrive key objectives
- Male participation – Modernised opportunities to retain and re-engage millions of male participants in the game
- Female participation – A sustainable model based on a world-class, modernised offer
- Club network – A vibrant national club network that delivers inclusive, safe local grassroots football and meets community needs
- Facilities – Enhanced access to good quality pitches across grassroots football
- Grassroots workforce – A transformation in community football by inspiring, supporting and retaining volunteers in the game
- Digital products and services – An efficient grassroots digital ecosystem to serve the administrative and development needs of players, parents and the workforce
- Positive environment – A game that’s representative of our diverse footballing communities, played in a safe and inclusive environment
"I'm confident that we'll seize on the remarkable togetherness and resilience our national game has shown in the face of Covid-19 and use it as a force for good.
"We recognise there is a huge amount to achieve, but we have set ourselves the challenge and look forward to delivering on this strategy which puts players at the very heart of everything we do."
An FA report has found that the social and economic value of grassroots football in England equates to £10.16bn every year.
The FA had already committed in its group strategy to building 5,000 new pitches by 2024, and to providing equal access for girls in schools and clubs.
It also acknowledges the need to recruit and retain volunteers such as coaches, referees and other administrative staff, and believes the best way to do this is to ensure they feel supported and are offered opportunities to progress.
County FA performance will be measured in part on their success in recruiting and retaining referees, Kendall said.
Kendall says the FA will track the reopening carefully, with recently-published research from community club network Sported showing there is particular concern among disability sports group leaders that participants will return after lockdown, and around the additional costs involved in keeping disabled participants safe.
The lifting of restrictions on grassroots sport comes 12 days after the publication of the Sheldon report into historical sexual child abuse in the sport, in many cases at grassroots clubs, and Kendall accepts safeguarding will be an issue on the minds of many parents.
Kendall said: "The guidelines that we have and the standards we have set need to be prominent for sure, so that parents and children feel safe to return.
"We are confident of what we have in place. Clearly March 17 was a dark day for football. We are confident of the measures we have, but we're not complacent."