The first time a game was played that resembles the modern futsal we know today has its origins in Uruguay in 1930. The country was experiencing a period of football contagion as it was set to host the inaugural FIFA World Cup, which they went on to win, as well as having won the last two Olympic football gold medals. Their appetite for football was satisfied by playing at any opportunity, whenever and wherever possible.
The first international futsal competition was held in 1965 with the South American Championship for National Teams. Hosts Paraguay won defeating Brazil in the final, but the runners-up had their revenge by claiming the title on the next ten occasions until the Paraguayans were victorious again. The rivalry would continue with the two nations meeting in the first World Cup Final in 1982.
The first national competition in Spain took place in the 1979-80 season with televised matches and was won by Interviú Hora XXV, a club founded by a well-connected sports journalist and featured former Real Madrid legend and Spanish International Amancio Amaro. They went on to win the next two league championships and became the world’s most successful club, winning many national and international titles. They are currently known by the name Inter Movistar. In 1982 the Spanish National Team played their first game, a 4-2 victory against Italy in a tournament in Holland. The sport continued to progress there and twenty years later they were the leading futsal nation alongside Brazil, which remains the status quo today.
This difference had a profound impact on player characteristics as the space available fundamentally affects the demands placed upon them. The reduced playing area for players in South America placed greater requirements on their skills and technique compared to the Europeans. The effect of this difference is still noticeable today with South American players possessing superior technique and preferring a more direct game using a pivot.
He had been elected FIFA president by appealing to the smaller member associations with promises of increased Word Cup finals places, cash for development projects and the opportunity to host new FIFA tournaments in their countries. It was for that last reason he created the FIFA World Youth Tournament in 1977 and organising a futsal world championship would provide another opportunity to keep his electorate happy.
The second reason was as Havelange became FIFA President the world of sport was embarking on a revolution as it began to be commercialised. The FIFA World Cup became a cash cow from the 1970s onwards, generating huge revenues, and an additional tournament would be another potential profit making event. It has since come to light that these tournaments were also used as an opportunity for corruption and Havelange has himself been tainted by allegations of bribery. Led by its president, FIFA was determined to control this emerging sport.
Representing the U.S.A. at the 1992 edition was Bruce Murray who scored a goal to become one of only three players to have scored at both a FIFA World Cup and FIFA Futsal World Cup (the other two are Algeria’s Lakhdar Belloumi and Denmark’s Brian Laudrup). There are 12 players who have played at both tournaments including Murray’s teammates in 1989 Steve Trittschu, Michael Windischmann, Peter Vermes and Tab Ramos, who went on to play in three FIFA World Cups.
FIFUSA v FIFA
The first major blow in this fight would go to FIFA who persuaded the Brazilian futsal federation CBFS to leave FIFUSA in 1990 and affiliate to them. This was a major setback for FIFUSA because it was the Brazilians who had been fundamental in its creation and management since it was formed and they were the most important federation in the world. The CBFS’ lead would soon be followed by other key national futsal associations such as Spain and Portugal who FIFA persuaded with its considerable political and economic power.
In 2002 they reorganised under the new name of Asociación Mundial de Futsal (AMF). Today, they continue to govern their own version of futsal and organise World Cups, with the next set to take place in Belarus in April 2015. However, FIFA’s much greater resources and power has meant that it is their version of futsal that is by far the dominant player in the world today.
By the end of the decade there had been 21 amendments to the rules and in the year 2000 alone there were 10 changes. These included permitting the goalkeeper to throw directly to the other half and moving the second penalty mark from 12m to 10m, previously only around 10% of these were being scored. This latter rule would have immediate significance as in the World Cup Final later that year Spain scored two 10m penalties to break Brazil’s monopoly on the World Cup, beating the reigning champions 4-3 in the final.
Professional teams had the means to bring in international players and coaches, mainly in the direction of South America to Europe. The countries that imported talent assimilated knowledge from their foreign counterparts and this led to improved results for their national teams, closing the gap with Brazil. One of the most audacious attempted transfers was by Spanish side El Pozo Murcia who tried to sign Diego Maradona after he was banned from football for drug use in 1991.
Since the turn of the millennium the rise of the internet with its capacity to share information, communicate and network with people all over the world has transformed society. It was just what futsal needed and it spread like a virus to those remaining regions where it was still unknown.
The profile of the game was further increased in the last few years with the entrance of one of the world’s biggest football ‘brands’ FC Barcelona as a leading futsal club. They had had a futsal section since 1978 but it is only the last few years that they have invested heavily, with a current annual budget of around €5,000,000, to become one of the world’s strongest teams. They began winning titles in the 2010/11 season as they claimed the treble in Spain and the following year added their first UEFA Futsal Cup, the official continental club competition that had begun in 2001.
There are no signs of the expansion of futsal slowing, taken from a global perspective. More people are playing than ever before and awareness is increasing. This is no surprise as its history proves its incredible universal appeal and high growth rates wherever it goes.
This is down to its many strengths. It is inexpensive to enjoy and easily understood being similar to the world’s most popular sport. It is suitable for any climate or conditions and can be played all year round if played inside; using indoor sport venues that already exist for basketball, handball and volleyball. Requiring minimum space it is ideal for the expanding urban environments in which over half the world’s population live in and rising.
I have used innumerable sources to find and verify the information in this piece. I am grateful for everyone who has made the effort to record its history.
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