Integriball Erasmus Plus – keep sport clean for youth and female footballers

“Integrity, the choice between what is convenient and what is right” Tony Dungy

Integrity is a vital part of sport. It helps to guide us to keep sport clean and ensures the natural joy of athletes in performing on the sports field and that of the fans around the pitch. However, we need to work hard to ensure the integrity of sport. Anyone connected to a sports competition needs to learn, understand and apply the rules, including the rules of integrity. Once we understand why rules must be respected, we understand why it is important to work hard to protect its integrity – to protect careers, to protect the unpredictability of nature and to protect the business of sport.

It is important to understand: the rules of integrity are for, not against us!

While football is one of the sports which is frequently threatened by opportunists, and senior male football players are provided more and more education on the dangers of sport manipulation (match- fixing), younger athletes and female players are still generally behind in receiving this knowledge and understanding the threats, the approaches and the impacts. This was proven by interviews of multiple national team and club players across a section of Europe, who often themselves believed that they could not be targets, given the lower media attention they receive. However, as the pandemic showed, lower level and less visible leagues are attractive exactly because of the lower media attention, lower salaries, and lower level of awareness.

These concerns convinced the CSCF Foundation for Sport Integrity, together with the support of 4 federations: the Czech Republic Football Association (FACR), the Malta Football Association (MFA), the Hellenic Football Federation and the Royal Belgium Football Association (RBFA); one players’ union, the Pancyprian Footballers Association (PASP), two institutional partners, GMLS and Ghent University, and two supporting partners, UEFA and the Council of Europe, to develop and implement Integriball Erasmus+, a 2-year project, which provided support to two of the most vulnerable members of the football family: grassroots and female footballers.

The objective of this 2-year project was to “provide customised and dedicated education programmes, focusing on the protection of grassroot footballers (adolescents – U16-18) and female footballers in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece and Malta, from threats of sport manipulation through understanding, awareness and knowledge of approaches, consequences and procedures available to them. This awareness and the guidelines were also adapted to coaches and administrative staff of the participating country federations.We have come a long way since the beginning of 2020, which was not eased by the onset and continued presence of COVID-19. Nonetheless, I am proud to share that we were able to:

– Build knowledge in the participating countries, together with representatives of the participating countries, as proven by surveys prior to, during and after the sessions.

– Develop a knowledge-based useful product which was eventually tailor-made to the sport manipulation situation, level of awareness, actual situation and educational needs of each football federation/football players’ union of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece and Malta; to provide these education tools in the countries to footballers and also prepare future trainers (train-the-trainers), who would be able to further deliver the knowledge for the youth and female footballers in their countries and sustain and transfer know-how.

– Give the opportunity to the motivated persons of our respective countries to make the future generations more cautious about what happens around them and help them to play a clean game and contribute positively to society.

I truly believe that the outputs, that were developed meticulously and delivered widely, will help to prepare not only the participating federation and union football players to be very successful, cautious and knowledgeable sportsmen and sportswomen, but they can also be transferred beyond these countries, thus benefiting the wider society of Europe and beyond.

As the director of CSCF Foundation for Sport Integrity, and the co-ordinator of Integriball Erasmus+, I would like to warmly thank the hard work of the partners of Integriball, as well as the supporting partners, UEFA and the Council of Europe. I would like to especially thank the contribution of the integrity officers of the involved federations, the president of the Cypriot Players’ Union and his team, the experts of CSCF, our ambassadors, all the interviewees of our research and last, but not least, the boys and girls and senior female football players who participated and will continue to participate in the training sessions of Integriball Erasmus+.

You are truly making a difference.

We stand against manipulations in sports.

Yours in sporting integrity,

Norbert Rubicsek