The stars of today will be on the pitch at the Juventus Stadium this evening, but it was the stars of tomorrow that enjoyed their moment in the sun this afternoon as the Piazza San Carlo in Turin staged a grassroots tournament.
Boys and girls aged eight to 16 and drawn from around the northern Italian city contested two knockout competitions on two temporary pitches at the 17th century square, a single of Turin’s biggest tourist hubs. The mounted statue of Count Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy surveyed the action, and was joined by proud parents and supporters of Sevilla FC and SL Benfica, tonight’s UEFA Europa League finalists.
While Italian television anchorman Mino Taveri compered the occasion Luca Pancalli, head of the youth and school sector at the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), told UEFA.com how important it is to nurture the grassroots and safeguard football’s well-becoming at all levels. “Any large football event supported by grassroots initiatives – specially when youngsters are involved – can bring a lasting legacy as it makes it possible for us to show that football is not only played on the largest stages,” he said.
“Expert football is just the tip of the iceberg – the foundations are laid by the thousands upon thousands of little ones who enjoy the game, play it and dream of becoming champions one day. Our mission is to assist them fulfil their dream.” Former swimmer Pancalli undoubtedly achieved his, winning 14 medals (eight of them gold) at the Paralympic Games in 1984, 1988 and 1996.
The 50-year-old also underlined the significance of the growth of women’s football in parallel to the male game. “We are functioning in collaboration with UEFA on this,” he stated. “We are attempting to take advantage of all the resources at our disposal, like the mini-pitches UEFA gave us [as part of the HatTrick assistance programme], to take football everywhere, especially to the most hard locations of huge Italian cities and women’s football. We had some difficulty in Italy in this respect, but we are producing up for it.”
Inclusivity is the watchword. This morning Turin’s Ferrante Aporti juvenile detention centre hosted a mini-tournament linked with the grassroots activities, as the FIGC seeks to engage young detainees, making use of football as an educational tool. They played under the banner ‘nessuno escluso!’ (nobody excluded!), which could very easily apply to the FIGC’s approach as a entire.