4 August 2017 –  Futsal and Beach Soccer more often than not play second fiddle to the normal format of the beautiful game i.e. association football. However, both have made major strides and gained mainstream publicity and world-wide popularity over the past few years.

To provide a very quick history, Futsal or Futsala (Russian for ‘room football’), is a version of ‘five-a-side’ football played on a small hard indoor court.  It was invented all the way back in 1930 in South America and has been around ever since.

Beach Soccer, also known as Beach Football or ‘Beasal’, is the more self-explanatory of the two and is indeed played on beaches or some form of sand. The first official tournament occurred in the year 1950 and the game kicked on from there.

Both codes have garnered a strong niche market of millions of fans across the globe and are not to be taken lightly. Not only have they both also become professional but have proved to be lucrative platforms for organisations, businesses and key sponsors over the years.

The South African Football Association (SAFA) was quick to see the value (commercial, financial, developmental and more) that both formats bring to the table and ensure the implementation, sustainability as well as growth of both codes for the benefit of South African football, its players and of course the football loving public.

A mere four years ago, The South African Indoor Football Association (SAIFA), incorporating the National Futsal League, in partnership with the 2010 FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust and SAFA, launched its calendar to members of the media, promising an exciting  revamp which took indoor soccer to the next level.

In 2016, South Africa also hosted a successful Africa Futsal Cup of Nations in Johannesburg, proving the interest and commitment to the format. Further confirmation of this was SAFA’s appointment of world renowned Portuguese coach João Freitas Pinto for national team duty.

SAFA takes Beach Soccer just as seriously and has an annual Championship, also funded by the FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust. The 2017 event took place in Richards Bay with Ghana Mbanjwa, President of the SAFA King Cetshwayo region stating: “We are honoured to host this wonderful event, which is not very familiar to us. But we appreciate the opportunity that has been given to us and we are making plans to develop this sport to be one of the most followed, not just in the province but the whole country”.

The national team have competed in a credible five CAF Beach Soccer Championships (with a best finish of fourth place) and have even competed in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.

The country is constantly on the international circuit with Durban (a popular Beach Soccer destination) hosting the Power Horse Beach Soccer African Trophy in 2015. Such tournaments have drastically aided player development and overall exposure.

SAFA recognises the incredible growth of Futsal and Beach Soccer worldwide as well as the potential of both to drive change, attract a fresh fan base, inspire youngsters and provide opportunities and financial benefits for all concerned. With World Cups, huge television audiences, network deals and a number of sponsors such involved, SAFA is on the fast track to making sure that the country does not get left behind.

The codes provide an alternate platform for youth to get involved in as not everyone is cut out for association football. SAFA recognises that both can be used as mediums to deter youngsters away from crime and alleviate poverty and hardships.

With Beach Soccer (a future Olympic Games event) overtaking a sport like Beach Volleyball in popularity stakes, the possibility of world-wide fame and fortune is yet another motivating factor for school kids to get involved.

Such codes can also possibly benefit Bafana Bafana one day too by providing super-skilled players from Futsal and Beach Soccer backgrounds, as both demand aspects such as precise passing, superior ball control, super fitness and more.

The above thought-processes, initiatives, programmes, systems and structures put in place are just the beginning and SAFA is committed to growing these formats far into the future for the overall benefit of South African football as a whole.

By Dhirshan Gobind