Belgium, the land of chocolate, beer and Touch

Nov. 5, 2020 @ 2:15 UTC

Adopting technology and youth development will pave the way to the growth of Touch in Belgium

In every Touch nation, there are people who selflessly give their time and energy with the community-minded goal of advancing the sport of Touch in their country. Touch Belgium has a team of such people who exemplify the spirit of Touch across the community as outlined in a recent interview by President of Touch Belgium Jane Gimber and Youth Director Laurent Bondon. Jane and Laurent joined Adam Collins from the Federation of International Touch (FIT) for a recent episode of ‘Set of Six”.

EU centre

Belgium is a Western European nation with a population of 11.5 million people. It is a linguistically diverse country with just under 60% of people speaking Flemish, and just over 30% of people French-speaking. The capital city of Brussels is considered by many to be the unofficial capital of the European Union with many European government institutions being located there. Brussels is also the unofficial capital of Touch in Belgium, with most of the Touch clubs based in the city or the surrounding region. In a really pleasing sign for the growth of Touch, several Touch clubs are brand new. 

Second wave

The COVID-19 situation in Belgium has deteriorated rapidly since the ‘Set of Six’ episode. In August, Jane Gimber mentioned to Adam Collins that Touch was due to resume play in late September. However, those plans were put on hold as the pandemic once again started to grip Europe in October. Jane says, “The second wave has unfortunately stopped our social tournament, which is a shame because we had 8 teams sign up with a lot of brand-new players. Belgium is now unfortunately on further lockdown until mid-December, in an effort to curb the rising number of cases.”

Digital boost

During the initial COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year Touch Belgium pivoted towards greater use of online communication with its community. Fitness sessions went online and Ben Powell from England Touch facilitated an online coaching course which was enjoyed by participants from Touch Netherlands and Touch Luxembourg, as well as Touch Belgium. “What we have seen from the lockdown is that communication through online channels can actually bring Touch communities closer together then maybe they would be doing normally,” said Jane. As further testament to that, Touch Belgium has recently held webinars to explain the changes in the referee rules under FIT version 5, and online referee theory courses are also being planned.

Pathway to growth

Touch Belgium has a plan to grow the sport. According to Jane, “We are now looking at raising the profile of Touch”. A key part of this differentiation is occurring at youth level. Youth Director of Touch Belgium Laurent Bondon, whose three children play Touch, mentioned that many youngsters playing the game are also involved in Rugby. However, there are positive signs that as a limited contact sport, Touch is attracting younger players who are interested in playing a team sport. 

Touch is also viewed by parents as being “less dangerous than soccer”, according to Laurent. This could be significant because soccer is the most popular participation sport in Belgium. Introducing Touch into schools is another goal. “We have increased our outreach to local government administrations and have had meetings with the local ministry of sport and education,” said Jane. 

Upskilling

Exposing players to more international competition is another aim. Touch Belgium has been running a competition open to clubs from other countries for the last few years and in 2019 attracted 16 teams from all over Europe. “It means that we can develop our level of play and our referees at the same time,” said Jane. In a pleasing sign of improvement at the national level, “The level of play was potentially becoming more advanced than the level of refereeing, so we have taken measures to make sure clubs are able to provide those referees for our national championship”. As a result of Touch Belgium’s increased focus on developing referees, 10 new Level 1 referees, along with two new Level 2 referees and two new Level 3 refs were accredited, in 2019. 

The family sport

With a relatively small number of participants, Touch in Belgium is still able to punch above its weight. It has an excellent website, a growing player base and an exceptional team which will see it emerge post-COVID-19 with a plan for the future at youth and senior levels. The sport of Touch is growing in a steady and incremental way in Belgium. At its core as Touch Belgium, President Jane Gimber says, “There is a real sense of family and community within the game in Belgium”. What a great recipe for success that could see Belgium climbing the European rankings in the years ahead.