Young girls across the length and breadth of Japan had the opportunity to participate in FIFA’s Live Your Goal programme during the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. A total of 20 festivals were conducted for young female players, many of whom had not previously played the game, but may have now taken their first steps towards being the next Yoko Tanaka or Kumi Yokoyama, two notable Young Nadeshiko heroines.

The aim of the Live Your Goals festivals, timed to coincide with the U-20 showpiece, was to stimulate female interest in football across the 12-15 age bracket. Supplementing the Japan Football Association’s (JFA) ‘Nadeshiko Vision’, the festivals also sought to encourage ongoing adult support so as to enhance a suitable environment for young female players.

The timing of the festivals meant many of the participants were able to attend Japan 2012 matches as part of the programme, allowing the youngsters a first-hand opportunity to see the pathway down which football can lead. Indeed, with Japan the current world champions and also recently winning a silver medal at the London Olympic Games, the east Asian nation is perfectly placed to push the Live Your Goals message.

Over 1500 young players took part across many of Japan’s major cities including, notably, the Fukushima and Miyagi regions, which were hugely devastated after last year’s earthquake and tsunami. The latter hosted two Japan matches during the tournament, while the former witnessed a pre-tournament international between Japan and Canada, meaning the youngsters of the respective regions were able to witness their nation’s young idols at close quarters.

“It was very good experience for me,” said national team star Nozomi Fujita, who like a number of her team-mates, helped out at some of the festivals. “In Japan we don’t so often see girls gather and enjoy football like this. It was also a good promotion for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and I hope these girls had their interest in football stimulated as a result. I hope this festival will be a trigger to increase the number of players, teams and opportunities.”

The FIFA Live Your Goals campaign, which was introduced in 2011 for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany, has also been launched recently in Azerbaijan and Costa Rica; host nations for the 2012 and 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups.

Leaving a legacy
The festivals in Japan were held as an essential part of FIFA’s legacy programme for the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

“We’d like to make it a real legacy and have it make an impact on our football development,” said Eiji Ueda, Chairman of the JFA’s Women’s Committee. “We are conducting a project for this and we will continue to see and develop this fruit and also to expand it to other areas as well.”

It is intended that the project will be expanded to the entire country, with information and resources to be provided by FIFA to all of Japan's 47 prefectural Football Associations.

The next generation of stars may well be unearthed via the programme, but the primary intention is simply to have girls take pleasure in the beautiful game.

“I enjoyed it very much,” said one enthused participant. “We had various kinds of small side games and ball activities, which were all very interesting. I like football very much but I could not play because we don’t have enough team-mates. So I could make many new friends and it was a very good occasion for me.”