The return of the National Futsal Championships is a huge boon, according to two people key to the development of the game within Australia.
Last month Football Australia announced the return of the National Futsal Championships, pitting states against each other in a tournament that has been on hiatus since the start of the pandemic.
The Futsalroos – the FIFA recognised national team for Australia – have competed at eight FIFA Futsal World Cups, and the game has a rich history and strong participation in Australia.
The 2019 National Participation Report, produced by Football Australia (FA), shows the game growing in participation by 36% – with 63,031 registered players. The National Futsal Championships will feature close to 1,000 participants from over 100 teams being involved from states and territories across the country.
James Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Football Australia, was pleased with the re-introduction of the National Futsal Championships and the reinvigoration of the F-League and looks forward to growing the futsal footprint in Australia.
“As part of our clear strategic agenda, we outlined a vision to create a national program for futsal and beach soccer by working closely with our Member Federations in a unified, inclusive and collaborative manner,” he said in a statement.
“With the culmination of this process, we are delighted that Football Queensland and Football Victoria will be hosting the National Futsal Championships in 2022 and 2023 respectively.
“There is a clear appetite throughout Australia for football to increase its imprint through futsal and beach soccer. Queensland and Victoria now have the opportunity to showcase this and bring it to life over the next two years, in a way never seen before.”
The 2022 and 2023 Championships will be hosted in Queensland and Victoria respectively – two states that have embedded futsal within their overall organisational strategies.
Trevor Edwards, Head of Futsal at Football Queensland (FQ), is the tournament organiser for the 2022 National Futsal Championships. He believes that FQ is seeing success in futsal because they have linked it with their football strategy in the state.
“We see it as a game in itself, but also linked in with the entire football family,” Edwards told Soccerscene.
“We are looking to develop the F-League in Queensland into a conference style where we have northern, southern, and central competitions in the state. That might take a few years to get to, but that is our target for futsal.”
Anthony Grima, head of Futsal at Football Victoria (FV), explains that it is essential for Australian football to develop futsal alongside the 11 a side game.
“After the 2021 National Futsal Championships were cancelled due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on sport and the community, we needed to work together to regain momentum, and confirm hosts for the tournaments in 2022 and 2023 to ensure our community had a calendar they could work towards,” Grima said to Soccerscene.
“The tournament is the pinnacle event for Futsal in Australia and is the largest of Football Australia’s national tournaments.”
The National Futsal Championships is seen as a way to strengthen pathways for junior development, as well as grow the game within Australia.
“It is essential from a state perspective. We would like to see that continue and grow. In previous years since the national F-League became defunct, there hasn’t been a pathway for juniors to make the national selection for the Futsalroos. We’d love to see that pathway come back and develop,” Edwards said.
“Not just your pathway for national teams, but also pathways and processes for really strong grassroots participation, coach education, and referee education.”
The F-League, Australia’s last national futsal competition, ended in 2016. Grima thinks that a relaunched national futsal competition is vital to the development of the game in Australia.
“A National Futsal League is crucial for any country who wishes to participate and compete in international tournaments,” Grima said.
“In addition to the National Futsal Championships, state-based F-Leagues could potentially link up with a National Futsal League that links all the champions together and forms the pathway for both male and female players, coaches, and referees.”
In recent years, the small-sided game has been recognised for its ability to supplement player development for football and also increasingly as a sport in its own right.
In 2016, a game featuring legendary Brazilian Falcao and Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa drew a crowd of over 2,000 people in Melbourne.
With states collaborating towards a common goal, futsal will only continue to expand within Australia.
“There are many initiatives that we can plan to elevate futsal not just in Australia but on the world stage. It is clear that Football Australia, under the leadership of James Johnson, wants to grow the Futsal footprint in Australia,” Grima said.
“Futsal’s inclusion in the ‘XI Principles – for the future of Australian Football’ back in October outlined a vision to create a national program for futsal and beach soccer by working closely with the Member Federations in a unified, inclusive and collaborative manner.”
Edwards shared the same view as Grima towards growing the game.
“As a whole, we are excited as Member Federations to be involved in the development of futsal. We are excited with the collaboration that is happening, and I hope we can keep pushing the sport together so futsal continues to grow in this country,” Edwards said.
When the National Futsal Championships kicks off at the Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre on January 5, 2022, it will have the backing of the entire football landscape.
Those involved in the game are committed to see it be a grand return for the tournament, to ensure the continuing growth of the game is not only maintained, but expanded and elevated in the months and years to come.