Futsal is the fastest growing indoor sport in the world according to FIFA and UEFA. The sport is developing across the globe, most notably in Asia and Europe where the game is really taking off. In this post I will look at some of the numbers that highlight the game’s rapid progression.
The biggest tournament for a global audience, as with any sport, is the world championships. The last FIFA Futsal World Cup was held in 2012 in Thailand and was televised in 196 territories, an incredible 36% growth on the previous edition in 2008. Just under 140 million people watched the tournament on TV worldwide and this included 50 million in Asia, demonstrating the already significant presence the sport has in that region.
In Europe, the UEFA Futsal EURO has been receiving an ever bigger following. In today’s world the main format for accessing information on such an event is through the internet so let’s look at statistics from UEFA.com. Unique visitors to the UEFA Futsal EURO section of UEFA.com grew an astonishing 78% and there was an extra almost 1 million page views compared with just two years ago when the competition was held in Croatia. Those are outstanding numbers.
There are still some nations who do not participate in futsal competitions or have a national futsal team but these are becoming increasingly rare. For the FIFA World Cup the number of participating nations has risen from 68 to 115 over the last decade. However, this is still around half of the possible participants, showing that the sport still has plenty of potential for further expansion. For the 2014 UEFA Futsal EURO there was 45 entrants from a possible 52.
One of the most noticeable absentees from international futsal is Germany. However, even without the support of the federation, futsal interest continues to grow in the country as it was fifth in terms of number of visitors to UEFA.com’s Futsal EURO section (UK was 15th). Futsal’s growing popularity is unstoppable, whether this comes from a grassroots movement or a top-down approach implemented by a federation.
The growing interest is not limited to international futsal. Spain, with one of the world’s strongest leagues, has led the way in the promotion of the sport and this has been extended to an international audience. The LNFS recently signed a deal with Bein Sports, the Qatar based sport channel, to broadcast Spanish futsal across 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East. This adds to an agreement that was already in place with Povekhost TV that broadcasts Spanish futsal in 14 countries across Eastern Europe as well as others with Esporte Interactivo (Brazil), Fox Sports (Latin America) and Sharjah TV (UAE).
In my own country, England, I have witnessed the sport develop since The English FA got involved in 2004. In the years up to now the progress has been slow and steady as it has fought for recognition and investment. However we are now starting to see the shoots of positive developments in the country and hopefully the sport will blossom into having the professionalism and attention it deserves.
In the two years between 2011 and 2013 the number of people playing futsal in England grew 17% for adults and an incredible 60% for youth players. These huge numbers are partly because of the small base figures, with just over 31,000 playing in 2011 and just fewer than 55,000 playing in 2013, but these are likely to be significantly underestimated. They are only for competitions that are affiliated with The FA so the real number of people playing futsal, both with informal play and unaffiliated competitions, is likely to be considerably larger.
Futsal is a sport that has grown dramatically over the last 15 years and spread globally. Before then it was relatively unknown outside its traditional heartlands of South America and Southern and Eastern Europe but has now reached the point of having a presence in all corners of the globe.
Futsal has a long way to go. We must build the foundations, in terms of plans; strategies and structures, that will maximise and take advantage of the growth in popularity of futsal. Most federations now have a futsal plan but it is important these are real and not box ticking exercises. Once the right plans are in place the focus must be on their execution and expanding the scope of the sport. An important aspect of the above being successful is that those with responsibility for developing futsal must share a passion for the game. Whether people want it or not futsal is going to become a globally popular sport. The future is bright, the future is futsal!
Since the last post I did an interview with a Swedish website after the two friendlies the England national team played in the country. You can find it here.