Time in Tbilisi: 12 Dec 2022, 08:48
Davit Mujiri: “At this stage, one of our main goals now is to host the 2023 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in a worthy and memorable way for everyone.” Photo: GFF.
By Salome Tsereteli
Agenda.ge, 10 Dec 2022, Tbilisi,Georgia
Georgia will co-host the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for the first time next year, with national teams competing in capital Tbilisi, Black Sea city of Batumi and western city of Kutaisi, along with host locations in Romania between June 21-July 8.
Group A and Group C matches, two quarter-final games, a semifinal and the final will be held in Georgia. Batumi Arena will see three games of Group C, semifinals and the final played in front of spectators at the recently unveiled stadium; Kutaisi’s Ramaz Shengelia Stadium will host three Group C games and quarterfinals, while Tbilisi’s Mikheil Meskhi Stadium will receive teams for three Group A fixtures and quarterfinals, and three Group A matches featuring the Georgian team will be played at Dinamo Arena in the capital.
Agenda.ge asked Davit Mujiri, the General Secretary of the Georgian Football Federation, about the country’s preparations for the competition and projects the GFF has set for the development of local football. We also touched on the recent successes and future plans of the Georgian national team.
The Federation official called Georgia’s co-hosting of a competition of this scale for the first time “very gratifying”, adding the country’s youth team was in “optimal shape” for the Championship.
He pointed out “many players” of the age group competed in the senior national team of the country, adding despite the “difficult” group in the U21 Championship – where Georgia finds itself alongside Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal – a “competitive” national squad would face the opposing teams.
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Mujiri also emphasised all games of the contest would be broadcast on Eurosport channel, noting “for two weeks, the football world will live with this tournament”.
The GFF General Secretary told the interview the co-hosting of the tournament was a “great success”, noting there would be “a lot to do” with scheduling due to some games being run in parallel that required four locations and four organising groups
“We have already issued calls for volunteers, and many young people will be involved in this tournament. We will have the opening game against the Portugal team, which is one of the favourites of the tournament. We will hold games with them at [Dinamo Arena] and Mikheil Meskhi stadiums, and Holland and Belgium will also be in the group with us. Germany, Czech Republic, England and Israel will play in Kutaisi and Batumi”, Mujiri explained.
“All this is quite difficult to organise – according to the tournament regulations, all teams need isolated hotels and their own base – and we host teams in four different locations [with] a different organisational approach [in which] logistically we cover the whole of Georgia from Tbilisi to Batumi in four stadiums and right training arenas”, he said.
“Accordingly, active infrastructural changes are underway at this stage. We want the Ramaz Shengelia Stadium in Kutaisi to be given the [UEFA] Category 4 [status] after the reconstruction, which would mean the country would have four stadiums of the category – which is the highest according to the UEFA standard”, the official told us, adding the designation would lead to local teams being able to hold domestic and international games in the arenas.
“In addition, we will have new training bases, the construction of which is already underway, including in western Georgia's [town of] Tskaltubo, where the Israeli national team will camp. [W]e are also building a training base in Georgia's Black Sea resort town of Kobuleti, and the team accommodated in Paragraph Hotel will train in Kobuleti. Most likely, it will be the England team, and the two teams located in Batumi will train at the two newly built training bases in Batumi”, he revealed.
“Those 11 infrastructural objects, set to be completed in the spring, will become a great achievement for the country and for Georgian football. The requirement of this tournament is the infrastructure of the third category, but we are trying to have the fourth category status, and we have calculated that it will be useful for us in the future as well. All training bases will be built and equipped according to UEFA requirements, including the bases for referees and organisers. We are very grateful to the Georgian Government – which allocated the financial resources [for the projects] – as well as to the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Sports Ministry and the Municipal Development Fund. Almost all locations are already actively under construction, with UEFA monitoring alongside us, and we already visited [some of the works] in western Georgia with UEFA representatives. We have a lot of work to do, but we'll be hitting all the bases in the near future. We hope to meet UEFA standards and host this European Championship in a dignified manner.
The support from the state had an important role from the beginning, otherwise the Federation would not have applied for this tournament and would not have won [the right to co-host]. [S]everal [other] countries were candidates, but this opportunity was given to us and Romania. In addition to the fact that we are motivated to be good hosts and hold a memorable tournament, the country will have a lot of infrastructure and experience, which will contribute to the development of amateur, youth and professional football. All of us will get relevant experience because in the history of independent Georgia, a football tournament of such a scale has not been held in the country.
A: It is very important for us to develop mass football, [as well as] women's, children's and amateur football. Let us remember that until 2016, the national league in women's football was not held systematically, [while] now we have reached the point where we have two leagues and up to 20 teams involved. Let us take the same Futsal Championship [as an example], which did not exist at all. To make a contrast to, for example, 2016, we have already started Futsal League 3 in 2022. […] [T]he same Futsal National Team won the final ticket of the European Championship, competed at the European Championship for the first time in history, and reached the quarterfinals in 2022. Accordingly, all those projects related to mass football, children's football are a priority for us. We are actively building football academies and already have such academies in five regions. These are the academies of Lagodekhi in eastern Georgia's Kakheti region, Rustavi outside Tbilisi, western Georgia’s Rukhi and Gvimbalauri villages, with the Kutaisi academy set to be added in 2023. At these academies, children train free of charge with up to 40 children per location receiving both school education and sports training, and we also provide them with transportation throughout the year. In addition, we are actively building technical centres – for example, a week ago we opened such a large centre in the Tbilisi suburb of Dighomi [and] similar centres in Tbilisi districts of Gldani, Varketili, Vake and Nutsubidze Plateau. We have more than 40 similar centres across regions of Georgia. All these projects are important for the Federation. When we started the amateur football championship in 2016, only nine teams participated. In 2022, about 400 teams took part. In addition to this, our project is also a 7-on-7 football tournament. In the first year, only 20 teams participated, now about 400 teams apply.
“We also consider a new project [for] cooperation with public schools very important. Children will have the opportunity to enter football groups for free, with full funding by the Football Federation. We have separate projects for girls – including PlayMakers, organised together with UEFA and Disney which not even all European countries have. This project is intended for young girls, and we are trying to instil in them the love of football from childhood and create the conditions for them to discover themselves in this sport. The PlayMakers project exercises are based on the theme of Disney animations, and with the help of these fun activities, the organisers aim to involve girls aged 5-8 in football. Children are able to participate in the training process completely free of charge. The result of such projects is that if before there were four to five teams in the National Women's League – which [also] could not be held regularly – today there are eight teams in the first league and 11 in the lower league.
Q: The optimism and interest that recently resurfaced among Georgian fans [about the national squad] is the merit of our national team. The team had a really historic season. I am sure that starting in March 2023, when we have our first official fixture with Norway in the qualifying stage of the 2024 European Championship, we will have the strength to fight. We are in constant contact with players of the national team [and] among national team candidates we have up to 20 players who play for foreign clubs – which of them are called up is the coach's prerogative. It is the responsibility of the Federation that the national team has all the conditions in terms of organisation and is optimally prepared, which also affects their results. Preparations continue under the leadership of [head coach] Willy Sagnol, and the first match with Norway will be held on March 28. Also, we may play some friendly fixtures before that. I hope that all the [squad members] will be in shape and the coach will have the opportunity to compete with the optimal team.
A: We have set ambitious goals for the development of football in Georgia in all directions, as well as social responsibility and other aspects. We have started most of the work [and] have all of this outlined in the document, and we know what we are aiming for – we will do everything to fulfil these goals. We worked with UEFA for about 12 months on developing this strategy, with their representatives holding several visits to Georgia, and we also visited them and received their experience and recommendations.
I want to also mention that our fans also give us additional motivation to do more and write a new page in our football history. At this stage, one of our main goals now is to host the 2023 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in a worthy and memorable way for everyone.
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