28 April 2014

Gambia: Let's Invest in Grassroots Football


To say that Gambian football is in crisis might be a bit exaggerating and misleading, but the fact that we never seem to learn from past experiences largely has to do with the failure to properly invest in grassroots football.

It is almost 50 years since Gambia affiliated with CAF and FIFA, but the country has so far failed to participate in any major championship finals at senior level. Our youth football has fetched us two continental titles and several memorable nights on the global stage, but things have taken a dramatic turn of recent.

After two years of normalisation process that ushered in a new Federation, several regional and affiliate associations, the new executive was hoping to qualify for the U-20 Championship in Senegal in 2015, but now have to wait for another three years. The U-17 though will be hopeful of providing consolation by reaching Niger 2015.

But if we wish to improve the standards of players in Gambia then we must address the issues in schools, the grassroots, and academies, as well as looking at the constraints of the domestic league and the GFF. We will need to take some bold decisions and a total overhaul of our grassroots structure. The Federation and key stakeholders have all stressed the need to invest in the grassroots, and it is a welcome development that they are all speaking the same language.

As part of going to the grassroots, school football has a big role to play in this. It is no secret that it used to be very effective in The Gambia and has produced several 'schoolboy" internationals. Prominent among them was Aziz Corr senior.

The normalisation process has also ushered in a school association and it is high time they start work to set the ball rolling. It is important that the association should engage schools throughout the country and organise national school leagues, which can act as the grooming stage for our various youth categories.

The Federation should also ensure that they create new competitions for mass participation. Among the competitions they could organise is the reserve teams league, academy, the FA youth, the U-16 and U-18 leagues; the latter two can also serve as the basis for the country's U-17 and U-20 teams.

It is important to note that the Federation through its president announced that they have secured funding amounting to US$1.2 million from FIFA for projects targeting grassroots and youth football development in the country as well as the refurbishment of the National Technical Training Centre; a welcome news, considering the events of the past week.

The Technical Center has for so long been a white elephant project. The structures put at that place are meant to meet the needs of a modern sports facility and if properly utilised will go a long way in addressing the issues of grassroots football development.

It should serve as a national center of excellence which will involve educational and football development programmes for children. It should also emphasise all the key elements of football in working towards building the complete footballer. This center should also be the base for all coaching and development work undertaken by the Federation, and the training and preparation ground for all the Gambia national football teams. That will help in cost cutting from national assignments, which money can be invested in other valuable projects.

This in our view will address the issue of grassroots football development in the country and with a strong basis at youth level, the country can only hope for good and consistent results at senior level in the long run. But until such bold decisions are taken, we might continue to live with the tag of "almost there".

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