Where do the paths of the inventors of basketball, volleyball and futsal all cross? Is futsal’s birthplace Uruguay or Brazil, or could it actually be the United States? What was the real reasons behind FIFA taking control of the sport? How did the development of the internet spread futsal across the world?

The answers to these questions and more will be revealed as I take you on a fascinating journey through the history of futsal. It will be a never seen before look into futsal’s past with the surrounding context and my own opinions to explain the reason behind key events.

Futsal’s history is already defined but its future is still yet to be decided. I finish with an evaluation of its future trajectory, providing recommendations to help the game develop. After I hope you will feel better acquainted with the story of this amazing game from its beginnings to the present day and beyond. So, without further ado I present Futsal’s Past, Present and Future.

The Great Eremenko

The Great Eremenko

Etymology of futsal
To locate the origins of futsal we first need to find where the word came from and define its meaning. The sport we know today has only been called futsal since relatively recently and was originally known in Spanish as fútbol sala or fútbol de salon and in Portuguese as futebol de salão, which all can be translated as indoor football. Futsal is an abbreviation of these phrases.

The first known use of the word futsal was in Brazil during the 1960s and the person credited with coming up with it is journalist José Antônio Inglêz whilst working for Sao Paulo based newspaper A Gazzeta Esportiva. At the time the game was receiving increasing media coverage as it gained popularity and the first international competition had been held in South America.

However, it would take another 20 years before it gained widespread use which happened due to a rivalry between the sport’s two international governing bodies. The first of these was formed in 1971 with the name FIFUSA(Federation International of Fútbol de Salón). In the 1980s FIFA decided it wanted to take on this role with the plan to incorporate FIFUSA. However, the two organisations were unable to reach an agreement and FIFA’s reaction was to try to prohibit the use of the word football by parties not associated with it. FIFUSA responded by using the term fut-sal for its 1985 World Cup in Spain but also carried on describing the game as indoor football.

During the 1990s the two organisations continued to have discussions about working together and FIFA began to use the term futsal, without a hyphen, to identify its form of indoor football. The 1996 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Spain was the first FIFA competition that featured the word futsal in its title.As FIFA expanded its version of the sport futsal became the well-known term for the game of indoor football. Since then futsal has gone on to encompass more than strictly a game of indoor football with FIFA endorsing it as the only recognised form of small sided football whether played inside or out. In many countries it is still frequently referred to by the original name used before FIFA’s involvement, for example mini-football in Russia and indoor football in Spain, even though it is played to FIFA rules.

Birthplace
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.

Juan Carlos Ceriani 1907-1996

Juan Carlos Ceriani 1907-1996

This included the children at a YMCA centre in Montevideo, which today still exists under the name Club Juventus. Instead of playing basketball or other indoor sports in the gymnasium they choose to play informal games of football. This was observed by Juan Carlos Ceriani, the centre’s Director for Physical Education.

Ceriani, from Argentina, had recently completed his studies in physical education at the International YMCA College (now called Springfield College) in Massachusetts, USA. It was there that James Naismith had invented the game of basketball in 1891 using a combination of the rules from other sports as his inspiration. Later, Naismith would cross paths with a student at the same university by the name of William G. Morgan, who would follow his example by creating his own sport in 1896 which would later be renamed volleyball.

Though Ceriani’s time at the university did not coincide with these two sporting visionaries, his later actions suggest he was inspired by their creations. After his studies were completed he returned briefly to his native Argentina before moving to Montevideo. It was there that he decided to devise a set of standard rules for the games of indoor football he had observed.

YMCA College in the late 1900s

YMCA College in the late 1900s

When he developed his new sport the influence of Naismith and Morgan were evident as he used a combination of the essence and regulations from other sports. He took the court dimensions and five players per side from basketball, the goals of handball, the rolling substitutes of hockey and the rules related to the goalkeeper from water polo for his new game he called fútbol de salon.

A match lasted 40 minutes and was played with a ball with a reduced bounce suitable for the hard surface, the latter of which took a few years to design and perfect. The new game was a huge success and in 1933 it was decided to codify the rules. They were sent to the YMCA headquarters in America to distribute to other centres across the world. This was the catalyst for the initial spread of the game.

Alternatively, there is a different birthplace of futsal if you see it as an interchangeable term for indoor football, with modern futsal the version and rules that have prevailed over others. The starting point would then be recognised in a country not known for its football heritage. The first indoor (6-a-side) football match was held in The USA on 12thDecember 1885 at Newark Roller Skating Rink between The Western Football Association of Western Ontario and the O.N.T.s of Newark. There had been 11-a-side indoor football played before in North America, with records showing as early as 1854 in Canada.

The YMCA hall where futsal was born

The YMCA hall where futsal was born

In fact, the USA were the early pioneers of indoor football, developing the game into a commercial success. In the decade before the modern rules of futsal were created in Uruguay the famous Madison Square Garden arena was hosting indoor football matches. By the 1950s many matches and competitions were being held indoors in The USA with match day attendances reaching up to 14,000.

An early game of indoor football

An early game of indoor football

Brazil’s Contribution
The game created by Ceriani quickly spread throughout the continent, particularly in Brazil where they began to develop the sport through creating formal organisations and structures. It was introduced there by teachers João Lotufo and Asdrubal Monteiro who returned to Brazil in 1935 after graduating from the YMCA Technical Institute of South America. A set of rules were published a year later in the Physical Education Magazine of Brazil.

Its growth was unstoppable, most notably in the metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. By the 1950s an inevitable need existed to create the institutions to support the practise of this new sport. The world’s first futsal federation, Federação de Futebol de Salão do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (since renamed Federación de Futsal de Río de Janeiro) was created in 1954 and was quickly followed by the establishment of others across Brazil.

At the time there were different rules in different locations, either adaptions of those formed in Uruguay or newly created ones. A couple of the stranger ones that existed included the banning of players speaking during the games and two defenders attempting to take the ball off an attacker at the same time. One fundamental inconsistency was some places used walls to keep the ball continuously in play, a rule which endures today in some other surviving forms of small sided football.

To unify and standardise the game the YMCA in Sao Paulo published a book in 1956 entitled “Brazilian Indoor Football Rules” with a new set that included the ball being filled with foam rubber for the first time. These were adopted by all the Brazilian state federations and, afterwards, other South American countries. FIFUSA, the first international governing body, was formed in the same city of Sao Paulo in 1971 and it was those rules that they used with slight modifications. These subsequently formed the basis of FIFA’s current rules after they assumed those of FIFUSA.

Brazil were the first to organise and formalise the game and their rules ultimately formed the basis of today’s, leading to claims that they invented the game. However the fact that the current rules have many sources and have been changed, adapted and modified numerous times makes it difficult to define a unique starting point. However, the YMCA in Montevideo, Uruguay seems the most appropriate location.

Going International

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.

Champions Paraguay in 1965

Champions Paraguay in 1965

The 1970s would see the sport introduced to countries outside of South America. To manage the internationalisation of the sport the next step for futsal was the creation of a global governing body and, as already mentioned, FIFAUSA was created in 1971 with the intention to promote and develop the game internationally. The future FIFA President João Havelangefrom Brazil was elected to be the first president of FIFAUSA but he was not involved in the day to day running of the organisation and held numerous other sports administration roles at the same time. He left FIFUSA in 1974 when he was elected FIFA President where he remained until 1998, stepping down to be succeeded by the incumbent Sepp Blatter.

As the sport reached the shores of Europe the three leading countries for indoor football in its early days were Belgium, Holland and Spain. As early as 1968 there was a Belgium futsal association, the first in Europe, and a cup competition for veterans of football. Holland was even further ahead with their first national league in the same year and 100,000 practising futsal with coaches and referees specifically for the sport.

Spain would began its journey in futsal that would lead to them becoming world champions around 1972 when the game was introduced by the YMCA Club in Madrid. As had happened in other countries it quickly grew and only two years later the first international futsal tournament was held. Madrid hosted a four team competition between that included Club YMCA, the Uruguayans CA Peñarol from Montevideo and veteran sides of CA de Madrid and Real Madrid (the latter had a youth futsal section until 1987). Real Madrid side featured football legends Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas and they won the competition in front of 12,000 fans.

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.

Registration card of Amancio from 1978

Registration card of Amancio from 1978

Another European country where the game developed quickly was current European Champions Italy after first being popularised there by two grand slam tennis champions, Adriano Panatta and Nicola Pietrangeli. They started playing football when the weather meant they were unable to play tennis. The use of tennis courts for futsal spread across Italy and this led to many being converted into futsal pitches.

Official recognition for futsal on a continental level came in 1975 when UEFA reported that indoor football was practiced in 22 of its affiliated federations. It announced its intention to unify the rules across the continent and achieve that in each country the game was governed by the relevant national football federation. They had to reign in these ambitions as their members failed to agree a unified set of rules so in 1977 UEFA released a set of recommended rather than compulsory regulations.

These rules had some differences from those used in South America including the court dimensions. Basketball had spread across the Americas and futsal developed there in the existing basketball halls.  In Europe Basketball wasn’t common so futsal was played on the much larger handball courts, which had originated in Scandinavia and Germany.

Typical futsal court in Brazil

Typical futsal court in Brazil

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.

The sport wasn’t without its detractors in Europe and there existed resistance from those within the 11-a-side game. At a conference on futsal for the national associations organised by UEFA in 1980, the English FA were against any international competition. Austria wanted to go even further and requested UEFA to prohibit the game altogether because they were scared it would lead to the disappearance of the 11 a side version.

This view was based on the fact that handball had originally been played on a football pitch with 11 players on each side before an indoor game with 7 players superseded it and the former version disappeared. Curiously, Austria is one of the few current UEFA members not to currently have a national team.

Another UEFA member without a national team is Germany where futsal has been slow to take off, possibly due to the popularity of handball there, though the first steps are now being made to develop the game. Though futsal is not well known in Germany, indoor football was hugely popular in the past. It began to be played in the 1970s with tournaments featuring the country’s top football teams organised during their winter breaks.

One of the first events had 12,000 spectators. This attracted private companies whom began to organise competitions and their success led to the German FA creating an official tournament for its clubs in 1987. During the early to mid-1990s it had a fanatical following with huge attendances.

The beginning of the end for this tournament was when the bigger clubs began to worry about their stars getting injured and not getting enough rest. Bayern coach Otmar Hitzfeld left all his big names at home for the year 2000 event and a year later he didn’t bother to attend, instead going to a winter training camp in Portugal. Though the top clubs no longer participate in indoor tournaments, regional versions featuring veterans from local clubs can still get crowds of nearly 10,000.

Indoor Football in other regions
Like in Germany, indoor football with its many differences to today’s futsal was attracting huge crowds and proving very popular in The USA. Continuing the progression from the 1950’s, two decades later they televised the first indoor football match which was played in front of 11,500 fans.

In 1978 the Major Indoor Soccer League began, played in hockey arenas on artificial grass. The league ran until 1992 and averaged well over 7,000 fans per game over its 14 regular seasons increasing to 9,000 in the playoffs. The record attendance was 21,278, registered in 1987. The league went professional and there still exists a pro indoor soccer league that averages several thousand fans per game, higher numbers than currently seen in the Spanish Premier Division.
Major Indoor Soccer League

Major Indoor Soccer League

The 1970s also saw futsal introduced to Australia. It was started by YMCA member, Dawn Gilligan (though some say it was brought over a year earlier by Edwin Palmer), who coached her son’s football team. In 1971 consecutive games were cancelled due to bad weather so she took the team indoors to play in the YMCA gymnasium in South Banksdown. Her son is Scott Gilligan, ex-Australian international futsal player and coach, and current Head Coach of the New Zealand National Futsal Team. Later they adopted FIFUSA’s futsal rules and the game spread.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s they had the National Indoor Soccer League (NISL) backed by enormous sponsorship, played in front of large crowds and shown on TV channel SBS.

World Championships
The 1980s was a turbulent time for futsal as FIFA entered the sport creating two factions, those who wanted to be part of FIFA and those that loyally supported FIFUSA’s governed alternative. They would both introduce world championship tournaments in this decade. The first World Cup was organised by FIFUSA in 1982, held in Sao Paulo. It featured 10 countries which were Argentina, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Holland, Italy, Japan, Paraguay and Uruguay. Brazil beat Paraguay in the final in front of a full house of nearly 15,000 fans with 5,000 to 6,000 outside having been denied entry, and coverage on both TV and radio.

The resounding success of this event in his home country would not have gone unnoticed by the then current FIFA President and former FIFUSA president João Havelange. Shortly after, he decided FIFA had to gain control of this sport. I believe this was for two reasons; one political and the other economic.

1982 World Cup in Sao Paulo

1982 World Cup in Sao Paulo

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.

Before the first FIFA Futsal World Cup (then called the FIFA 5-a-side (Indoor) World Championship) would be held in The Netherlands in 1989 FIFUSA organised two more World Championships, in Spain in 1985 and Australia in 1988. To lure team’s participation in its tournament FIFA employed its unmatched economical resources by covering all expenses which wasn’t the case at FIFUSA events.
Futsy, the mascot for the 1985 tournament

Futsy, the mascot for the 1985 tournament

In that first FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil defeated the hosts Holland 2-1 in the final with the Golden Boot award going to the local boy Vic Hermans, current Thailand Head Coach, and still the only non-Brazilian to win the award. Unsurprisingly Brazil were the team to beat from the beginning but more unexpectedly was the performance of The United States.

Using players from their indoor pro league they had beat eventual champions Brazil 5-3 in the second phase and ended up achieving 3rd place having lost to the Netherlands in the semi-final. They had actually been set to host the tournament a year earlier before a change of plan. USA would supersede their 3rd place achieved in 1989 with finishing 2nd at the 1992 edition in Hong Kong, losing to Brazil 4-1 in the final. The US rarely played games outside championships and their first international home fixture wasn’t played until as late as 2002. As other nations began to use futsal specific players their results at the World Cup deteriorated winning only 2 out of their next 13 World Cup matches and failed to qualify on two occasions.

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.

Hermans receiving his award of FIFA President Havelange

Hermans receiving his award of FIFA President Havelange

The FIFA Futsal World Cup has been played every 4 years since 1992, steadily increasing in participants with the last edition in Thailand 2012 having 24 teams which included the only ever present nations; Argentina, Brazil and Spain. In Thailand Brazil were told by FIFA to cover the 2 stars on their shirts representing their victories in the first couple of FIFUSA championships. The top performer at the World Cup has to be Brazilian Manoel Tobias who is the all-time top goal scorer with 43 goals and the only player to win the Golden Ball and Golden Boot on two occasions (1996 & 2000). The cumulative World Cup attendance has now reached over 1,000,000 spectators.

FIFUSA v FIFA

The 1990s were defined by the battle between FIFA and FIFUSA to govern the game internationally; creating uncertainty and turbulence in the world of futsal, the continued modification of the rules and the introduction of professionalism in some countries. FIFA wanted to takeover total control of futsal through incorporating FIFUSA but they were unable to reach an agreement and instead went head-to-head.
Brazil v Spain from 1992 World Cup

Brazil v Spain from 1992 World Cup

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.

The two governing bodies did continue to negotiate and they had a positive meeting at the 2000 World Cup in Guatemala, creating a letter of intention to work together but this agreement later fell apart. The desertion of national associations to FIFA led to disagreements within FIFUSA and the organisation was left severely destabilised from the conflict.

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.

Manoel Tobias with the golden boot

Manoel Tobias with the golden boot

During 1990s FIFA continued a process of modifying the rules they took from FIFUSA, which originated from those created in Brazil in 1956 and Uruguay in 1930. Their aim was to maximise the sport’s attractiveness, especially for a TV audience. Even regulations as fundamental as the ball were still being decided and in the first two World Championships a standard football was used.

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 grew from the new national championships that were been formed in response to the growing popularity of the sport. The world’s strongest leagues of today were created during this period. The Liga Nacional Fútbol Sala (LNFS) in Spain was formed in 1989 (first single national league from 1995/96), Russia’s Superleague in 1992 and Brazil’s Liga Futsal, inspired by the NBA, in 1996. These remain at the forefront of club futsal as shown by the fact that the Intercontinental Futsal Cup has been won by a club from a league outside these three only on one occasion, Kairat Almaty of Kazakhstan in 2014.

Javi Rodriguez celebrates in Guatemala

Javi Rodriguez celebrates in Guatemala

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.

Professionalism led to teams being better organised and physically prepared which sparked a tactical revolution. Defensively, teams became less passive and started to press full court in an organised manner, increasing the speed and intensity of play. To overcome this pressing attacking strategies featured more mobility and movement in attack with players rotating between all positions on the court.

Many of the tactical innovations of that time continue to form the basis of team strategies today. One of the most intriguing was the 4-0 attacking formation created by legendary Brazilian coach José Azevedo “Zego”. He applied this pivot less system to control possession against stronger sides. He had begun experimenting with this way of playing as early as 1983 and whilst coaching in Spain would inspire many of the top coaches in today’s game.

Globalisation of futsal

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.

Spanish newspaper article about El Pozo´s Maradona bid from 1991

Spanish newspaper article about El Pozo´s Maradona bid from 1991

Online portal FutsalPlanet, founded in 1997 by then Croatian captain and current Finland Head Coach Mico Martic, became the key platform in creating and connecting a global futsal community. As the principal resource for finding futsal information it was crucial in supporting the growing interest in the game. Its reputation and popularity grew to such an extent that its annual awardsfor the best performers are one of the main events in the annual futsal calendar and are recognised as the de facto official global awards for futsal.

Kike receives 2009 Best Player award from Mico Martic

Kike receives 2009 Best Player award from Mico Martic

This grassroots movement, alongside FIFA promoting the sport to its members, provided bottom-up and top-down pressure on national football associations to develop the game in countries where there was previously little or no futsal.  This could not be ignored including in important economic, sporting and political powers such as England, France and Japan with the USA possibly to follow soon. Over half of all FIFA members participated in the qualifying for the 2012 World Cup, around double the number for the 2000 edition.

The new millennium did not just see developing futsal nations progress as more established countries such as Argentina, Italy (winning UEFA Futsal Euro in 2003 & 2014) and Portugal caught up with the world’s powerhouse Brazil, just as Spain had done a few years before. They achieved this in different ways. Argentina exported their players to Europe´s professional leagues, Italy nationalised Brazilians (to the extent they had no Italian born players in their squad!) and Portugal developed their futsal learning from their Spanish neighbours.

Another impact of the internet on promoting the game was to create its first real global star, Alessandro Rosa Vieira, better known as Falcao. The Brazilian first entered the world stage at the 2000 World Cup and has been entertaining spectators in spectacular fashion ever since. His achievements are too numerous to mention them all but include two-time World Cup Golden Ball Winner, two-time World Cup Champion, 4 times FutsalPlanet Best Player of the Year and Brazilian league titles with almost whichever club he has represented.

Within the sport his legacy is highlighted by the fact that he inspired one of the greatest players of the current generation, Portugal’s Ricardinho, to get a tattoo with the words “The Number 1, Falcao 12.” on his leg in tribute to his idol. He became renowned outside the confines of the sport through the many YouTube clips of his skills and goals which have gone viral across the web and registered millions of views.

Brazil's iconic number 12

Brazil’s iconic number 12

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.

As we reach the present day we can see the game continues to grow and remains an attractive spectacle. In 2014 a Brazil v Argentina friendlyhosted at the Mané Garrincha stadium smashed the previous record attendance of 25,000 that was recorded in a league match in the same country fifteen years earlier. There was a staggering 56,483 fans present. In a strange way, FIFA was partly responsible for this success as the stadium became a white elephant after the 2014 Football World Cup and it was desperate for events to help cover it´s running costs. Absurdly, the world´s second most expensive stadium behind Wembley is now being used partly as a bus station.

Ricardinho's tattoo

Ricardinho’s tattoo

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.

Despite this futsal has been slow to organise itself which has left it behind the popularity of other leading sports. Without the attention it has struggled to attract interest from sponsors, the media and TV broadcasters which are needed to support the game at a professional level, provide investment for development and give financial stability. The combination of rapid growth and underdevelopment mean it possesses enormous untapped potential. So how can this potential be fulfilled in the future?

Brazil v Argentina in front of 56,000 fans

Brazil v Argentina in front of 56,000 fans

Going Forward
First it must address those areas where the game remains underdeveloped. Many African countries are still absent from international competition with very little futsal being played there. South America, where, despite the sport’s huge popularity, has stalled and allowed other countries to catch up since the 1990s due to poor organisation and management. Another neglected area is the women’s game and there is still no FIFA Women’s Futsal World Cup (there is an unofficial one). FIFA, with its $1.5 billion in cash reserves sitting idle, has the means to develop these areas if it wishes.

An example of what investment in development can achieve is Asia which has become one of the regions where futsal is has grown the quickest from a humble beginning. In some aspects they are now world leaders and are the only continental confederation with a senior men’s, senior women’s and U21 men’s international championship. The consequences from The AFC´s support are clear with Iran, Japan and Thailand now having some of the strongest national and club teams in the world.

Asian futsal is on the rise

Asian futsal is on the rise

One of the most effective ways to attract the investment for developing the sport would be if it became an Olympic Sport. I have wrote about this separately before so will only be brief. I was quite negative on its outlook but I am slightly more positive now with reforms to the Olympic Charter removing a limit on the number of sports and the possible inclusion of futsal in the 2018 Youth Olympics. Its prospect would improve with development in Africa and the women’s game. The battle to become an Olympic Sport has lasted decades and there is still a long and difficult road ahead to achieve this dream.

There are plenty of other ways to increase the appeal of investing in futsal in the meantime. Futsal has still not become an instantly recognisable and understood term, limiting its possibilities. When someone says football or basketball people immediately know what it is and this isn’t the case with futsal. One reason for this is the game is known under different terms in different regions. In some places it is called mini-football, 5-a-side or indoor football which can cause confusion especially when these games maybe be played to different rules.

Those within the sport have not helped this as many official futsal organisations use other terms in their names and when publicising information on the sport. To create a well-defined international brand, become the only form of small-sided football and distinguish itself from the outdoor game the use of the word futsal and its rules needs to happen under all circumstances. With time the hope would be that whether you are in Spain, Russia or Japan you know exactly what futsal is and that other variants of the game have become obsolete.

The marketing of the game has been almost non-existent and, in my opinion, is the biggest factor hindering its progress. Any great product will not be successful without promotion and being easily accessible. The fact that futsal has achieved so much principally based on word-of-mouth is a testament to its appeal.

One hope to address this is the involvement in the sport of people from the USA and more specifically The NBA. The recently announced project to begin a professional league in the United States in 2016 could be a tipping point for futsal if it becomes a reality. Americans are the masters of marketing and their involvement could show the game to the world and show how futsal should be ‘presented’. They have shown in the past they can attract large crowds for football played indoors so it is not completely untested there and has a good chance to succeed.

One strategy to market the game is through its link with football. The world’s most famous current and past football stars have spoken on how they began with futsal and revealed their love for the game. It is widely recognised as effective in improving skills suitable for the 11-a-side football. This is a great way to persuade children to try the game and subsequently many will become hooked on it. This comes with the risk that elite futsal and its own stars are put in the background which devalues both so it is crucial these are promoted first and foremost.

Ronaldo's futsal registration card

Ronaldo’s futsal registration card

Moment of Truth
The huge positive for the sport is that throughout its history it has proved beyond doubt its popularity in terms of participation and spectators, in both regions where football is already well established and in places, like the US, where it was a minor sport. The fact it has attracted huge crowds means investment in the sport will eventually be inevitable. As it shares its essence with the world’s most popular sport, and arguably more entertaining and spectacular, no-one can halt the futsal juggernaut.

After a journey that began in a YMCA gymnasium in the centre of Montevideo in 1930, with each decade telling a different story, it has reached every corner of the globe. It is coming out of the shadows of its 11-a-side relation and creating its own space in the sporting world with a bright future. It has got this far thanks to the pioneers who have developed futsal, inspired by their passion for the game and it will be taken forward in the future by those that share this motive. It is undoubtedly a question of when not if futsal will fulfil its potential to become a global success. Maybe this will be written in the history of the decade ahead.

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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