The year in review 2023 – FAW initiatives

It has been a ground-breaking year for the FAW with a number of new initiatives being successfully implemented across the country to the benefit of the game and local communities as a whole. To celebrate these significant achievements, here are just a few highlights from the last 12 months.

In April the Football Association of Wales was named Sport Organisation of the Year at the UK Sport Industry Awards. This achievement was in recognition of the collective contribution made by clubs, volunteers, staff and partners from the across the entire spectrum of the game in Wales. 

The award is testament to a number of the new initiatives that have made a fundamental difference in delivering the objectives in the 2021-2026 Strategic Plan and covers everything from participation and accessibility of the grassroots game to the success of our national teams. As we head into the second part of the timeline of the plan, the association has never been in a stronger position.

The PAWB Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2021-26 has been a key part of this, and sets out the vision, objectives and actions to become a truly inclusive and representative governing body, leading to visible change through the campaigns delivered. Designed under the strapline of ‘Football of everyone, everywhere in Wales’, the programme will continue to ensure that football is the most inclusive, accessible and successful sport in Wales. 

External recognition has extended to UEFA with confirmation that the UK and Ireland will host EURO 2028. Cymru legend Gareth Bale was in attendance at the UEFA HQ in October when the decision was announced, with Cardiff one of the ten stadiums that will be used for the final tournament. The previous month it was confirmed that Wales would host the UEFA U19 EURO Finals in 2026, a decision that offers another significant opportunity for the FAW to deliver on the European stage.

Having a voice at the top tables of European and world football is one of the commitments in the FAW’s strategic plan and in April we saw that milestone achieved, where former Cymru Captain Professor Laura McAllister appointed as UEFA vice-president on the UEFA Executive Committee, the first time that a representative from Wales has been elected to a position on European football’s governing body. 

Governance changes were also seen across the FAW in 2023, with the results of the FAW’s Quadrennial Council Elections being announced in July. FAW President, Steve Williams welcomed those who have been elected to represent clubs and leagues across the country: “I’m very pleased to welcome new and re-elected members to the FAW Council. They now have the important responsibility of promoting and growing football in Wales.” Just a month earlier the FAW welcomed a new Independent Chair, Alys Carlton and Sameer Rahman and Dr Carol Bell as Independent Non-executive Directors to the FAW Board. CEO Noel Mooney shared, “We are growing and evolving football across Cymru and these appointments ensure we continue our journey to becoming a world class sports organisation. Diversity of views, agility in our decision-making and a wide range of relevant skills are essential to delivering ‘Our Wales/Ein Cymru’ – our strategy for Welsh football.”

At the start of 2023 the FAW launched the Football Services Centre, a direct and accessible line for stakeholders across the game in Wales to answer queries and offer support, and this has proved to be vital tool for clubs and match officials. “As an association we always want to do more to help our stakeholders and become a world-leading nation in everything we do,” explained CEO Noel Mooney. “The Football Services Centre is very much an example of this.”

It has also been a hugely-successful year for the Cymru Football Foundation (CFF) with millions of pounds invested through its ‘Fit-for-Future Facilities Fund.’ National team managers Rob Page and Gemma Grainger have been keen supporters of the foundation, visiting new all-weather facilities at Ferndale and Mumbles Rangers respectively. Meanwhile, a number of other projects have been improved and developed over the last 12 months with the support of the CFF.

“It’s really special for me personally,” explained Page has he returned to his roots last month to visit the new playing surface at Darran Park which received a £170,000 investment from the CFF. “I used to have my P.E lessons on this pitch. It’s a great investment, an absolutely game-changer for the Rhondda Cynon Taff area and there are a lot of people that are going to benefit from this facility.”

In partnership with UK Government, the CFF helped the Mumbles Community Association to create a brand-new full size dual all-weather 3G pitch. A grant of £190,000 alongside partnership funding from Mumbles Community Council, Swansea Council and Sport Wales totalling £1.1m was provided to complete the development of the Go Underhill Hub. “These facilities are vital,” said Grainger.“Girls in particular will want to come down into an environment that they feel safe, clean and the pitch looks fantastic.”

The FAW’s PAWB Fund has this year this year successfully awarded over £38,000 to support 330 individuals, 275 families and 133 clubs/organisations across all areas of Wales. The fund supports young people and families across Wales to access football opportunities and equipment with three panels taking place this past year. Jess Williams, Sport Wales Relationship Manager believes that the PAWB Fund “is a great example of an initiative that supports young people, and families with the cost barrier that can be associated with playing football. By providing an opportunity where people can apply for support to buy boots, shin pads, sport hijabs and more, young people can continue to participate within their communities, enjoying all sport has to offer. This support can be transformative for the lives of recipients, ensuring Football, and Sport in Wales is for everyone.”

But while so much success has been achieved off the field, there were also some additional on field highlights for two female match officials in particular. Ceri Williams marked another milestone in her career as an Assistant Referee as she was appointed for the UEFA WU19 EURO Final between Spain and Germany in Belgium in July. 

But one of the most significant refereeing appointments was confirmed in January when it was announced that Cheryl Foster would head to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, becoming the first Welsh match official since Clive Thomas in 1978 to officiate at the World Cup. “I am honoured that I have been given the opportunity to represent my country refereeing at the World Cup,” said the former Cymru international. “In the last 10 years I’ve put a lot of hard work and commitment in, and this is what I have been working towards.”

Despite Welsh Refereeing success on the international stage, the FAW this year revealed worrying survey results that detailed that 1 in 4 Referees in Welsh football had experienced physical abuse. Initiatives to reduce incidents of abuse and improve discipline, including Temporary Dismissal trials and Yellow Arm Bands for Junior Referees have been introduced across the country. Through FIFA funding, the Adran Leagues Referee Academy was also introduced which thanks to incredible, visible role models like Cheryl Foster and Ceri Williams, over 100 women and girls signed up to the Referee Academy induction workshops. 

The FAW is committed to ensuring football is for everyone, where everyone can feel respected and supported across the game in Wales. To further support the FAW’s vision for Welsh football and its culture, the FAW created ‘PAWB Values’, a campaign which highlights the FAW’s core values of ‘Respect, Excellence and Family”. 

The FAW’s guiding principles form the acronym ‘REF’ one of this years’ iterations of the #PAWBValues campaign highlighted the importance of respecting everyone across the Welsh football family to support the development of excellence. These three key principles are in place to guide all aspects of the FAW’s work and are values which are key to growing and developing the game in Wales and will continue to feature prominently across the FAW’s upcoming initiatives, around Respect, Integrity, Fair-Play and Inclusion. 

The FAW’s Senior Cymru players have also continued to use their platform for good whether that is through championing inclusion in supporting initiatives with imperative charitable campaigns such as  Football v Homophobia and Show Racism the Red Card or Cymru’s Senior Men supporting the Sound Campaign, a Welsh Government funded project which aims to raise awareness of early red flag behaviours in relationships in an exclusive 15-minute YouTube video.

Speaking on Ben Davies’, Joe Morrell’s and David Brooks’ support of the Sound campaign, CEO Noel Mooney shared he “hoped the conversations between our players will encourage many other men to reach out to their friends or seek trusted, sound advice on how to address such behaviours and how to create an environment where women can feel safe.”

Like other years, the FAW has continued in its mission to celebrate Welsh Culture and history, often through powerful partnerships with key organisations across Wales. 2023 saw the return of the successful Gŵyl Cymru Festival in partnership with Arts Council of Wales. Gŵyl Cymru went on tour to some of the biggest festivals in Wales, from the Hay Festival to the National Eisteddfod, from FOCUS Wales to Green Man. Football and the arts were celebrated with gigs, comedy, theatre, poetry and talks with appearances from artists Dafydd Iwan and Ani Glass writer Darren Chetty, performers from the Welsh Ballroom Community, and National Poet of Wales, Hanan Issa. 

The FAW has also been proud to partner with the National Centre for Learning Welsh to ensure more members of the Welsh football family have further access to learn Welsh, in addition to developing relations with the DPJ Foundation and Farmers Union of Wales to discuss how football can best support the mental health of those in rural communities and within the agricultural industry.

The many great stories across Welsh football deserve a proper platform, and the launch of RedWall+, the FAW’s streaming service, does just that. The Dragon on My Shirt series, FAW Originals and FAW Documentaries take you behind the scenes of so many previously untold stories from across Welsh football. Covering the domestic game, music, culture and the national teams, there is something for everyone on the completely free platform.

We could go on, and on, and on. From coach education, to championing diversity, to the continuation of the successful ‘BE. Football: Mentoring Programme For Her’ and the introduction of the PAWB Mentoring Programme, to the three year celebration of the FAW’s campaign with Welsh Blood Service, to the increased participation at grassroots level, 2023 has been a significantly positive year for the FAW through the number of new initiatives that have been implemented in-line with the Strategic Plan. 

Football in Wales goes well-beyond 90 minutes of international football, and the successful delivery of so many projects and initiatives over the last 12 months has ensured that we head into 2024 with the foundations firmly in place to achieve so much more. 

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