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Futsal is not the enemy

We are extremely pleased to welcome Doug Reed to FutsalFeed's columnist crew. Doug Reed is a former professional England International who has been involved with futsal on many different levels - playing, coaching, writing, commentating, but also organizing various futsal events throughout the world.

Doug's debut column uses the recent actions of The English Football Association to reflect on football's view & treatment of futsal. He reaches the conclusion that football faces a choice that will determine the future of both sports.

We'll leave you to it - enjoy!

In September The Guardian website revealed that the English FA were to cut almost the entire budget for futsal, resulting in the shutting down of the national team programme.

The English FA calculated they needed to make a 20% cut in costs across the organisation due to the impact of Covid-19 but futsal’s already small budget was hit with a reduction of almost 90%.

The day after The English FA confirmed the report in a 275-word announcement and have since not mentioned it publicly again. It appears this decision is permanent and not with the intention to review it once the situation improves.

The announcement came on the exact same day 2 years after they had announced a 6-year strategy for futsal that included the aim to become a top 20 global futsal nation. This had raised hopes that they would finally take futsal development seriously.

In their announcement on the cuts to futsal, they said the expected losses mean they have to “prioritise our core functions that regulate and serve English football and also have a duty to support our men’s and women’s senior teams in their efforts to win major tournaments.”

The implication of this is that a governing body of futsal has taken the incompatible position of taking no responsibility for serving futsal and supporting its national teams.

Renowned investor Warren Buffet once famously said “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” Futsal didn’t need recent events to know The English FA, which remains the world’s richest federation, viewed futsal as disposable and unimportant but it has made this clearer than ever before.

Futsal as a rival

The English FA are far from being the only federation in the world that adopts this treatment of futsal. UEFA’s official magazine offers an insight into the reasons why.

In 2017 it wrote “futsal had long been the subject of misconceptions, often being considered in opposition to football and regarded as competing with its big brother. That explains why it was neglected for so long in Europe, a continent where football's power is absolute.”

It seems this view endures among less enlightened federations and their administrators. This is both misguided and potentially harmful to the interests of football.

Football's Popularity

The number of people playing 11-a-side football has been declining in England and I assume this is the case in many other countries as is caused by the changes in today’s society.

The positive link between early participation in a sport and increased interest in following the professional level as adults has been proven. The recent trend of a generation who grew up playing video games now choosing to watch e-sports is an illustration of this.

The effect has a time lag due to the period between developing interests as a child and becoming an adult consumer with money to spend.

So, whilst football has been riding a seemingly never-ending wave of increasing revenues over the last 30 years, the decline in participation is a warning against complacency.

The Competition

This is happening as the battle for people’s free time has become fiercer than ever. When choosing how to spend it, it goes far beyond replacing football with futsal or even another sport. Football is competing with anything that provides entertainment.

It could be replaced by not only futsal but also new options such as Fortnite, Netflix, or TikTok. One analysis found more than half of Generation Z spend over six hours a day on their smartphones. That’s six hours of their day that before smartphones could have included football.

New entertainment technologies are emerging constantly. They are all carefully designed to catch and sustain attention. Only highly engaging activities can compete.

This is where futsal comes in. Its exciting and high-intensity nature ensures players are always fully absorbed in the activity. It is rewarding physically, psychologically, and socially.

It fits a lot into a short time. It is played in a comfortable environment whatever the weather and needs less space than football. You can organise it within just your immediate social circle as it requires only 10 players.

This makes it well-suited to compete with other entertainment options but also a modern society where lives are getting busier, urbanisation is reducing the available space and extreme weather is more common.

Futsal as a more engaging game

In countries such as Brazil and Spain, futsal is said to be played by more people than football.

In England, the situation is similar except it is small-sided football formats that are most popular and played by over 1.5 million a week. This is because they were already established before futsal was introduced.

Futsal is in effect a small-sided football format that evolved into a sport. It has the potential to dominate this market as its rules are much more appealing than these other games.

However, for futsal to grow it requires investment into its development. For the English FA, this offers an opportunity to gain influence in this area as these small-sided football formats are mostly operated by private enterprises with little oversight from the federation.

Futsal’s top-level also offers potential revenues. We have seen engaging, exciting, and faster formats of other sports grow rapidly such as twenty20 in cricket, sevens in rugby, and 3x3 in basketball. In fact, twenty20 quickly established itself as the most popular format of the game across the world.

You might think this justifies football’s position of seeing futsal as a threat. In fact, it might actually turn out to be their saviour. Cricket, rugby, and basketball are promoting these other formats because they realised they are essential to their survival and growth.

The Decision Facing Football

Within this context, the difficulty for football to deliver constant growth is increasing.

With futsal under the same governance as football, it potentially loses participants to something in its own eco-system or to another activity completely.

Further, many that play futsal either go on to play football or view it as a recreational form of their main passion of football. Futsal has a huge, dedicated community but it is undisputed that it also acts as a gateway into football.

For football, in this more competitive environment, it will be easier to get people hooked on highly-engaging futsal and transition them to football than trying to get them directly into it.

The dilemma football faces is similar to that faced by video rental company Blockbuster when high-quality video streaming started becoming viable around 15 years ago. It chose not to offer its own online streaming service as this would take business away from its very lucrative stores.

Today, Blockbuster no longer exists after going bankrupt whilst video streaming platform Netflix is worth $240 billion and one of the world’s biggest companies.

With many of the futsal and football bodies neglecting futsal’s development, there are increasing calls within the game to return to its own independent governance that it had 30 years ago.

If football doesn’t change its approach soon, they might not have futsal to turn to for help.

Football has two options. Recognise futsal as complimentary to football and respect their obligation to support its development or, as in England currently, consider it as a rival that needs to be prevented from growing.

The path they choose to take could define both football’s and futsal’s future.

Find more articles by Doug Reed at his website

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Doug Reed


Doug Reed


Doug Reed is a professional futsal player from England. Futsal is not only his profession but also his passion. He is involved in the sport on many different levels. He has coached, written, commentated on the game as well as being involved in organizing futsal events across the world.

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