Reaching new heights

The scale of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and the global interest which the tournament attracts have both increased rapidly since the first edition kicked off in 1991. However, FIFA’s flagship competition for women is only one important aspect of the work being carried out by world football’s governing body in its efforts to develop the women’s game.

Just as the FIFA Women’s World Cup has grown, so too has FIFA’s investment in women’s football around the world. An important first step was taken back in 2004 with the introduction of a regulation which required every member association to spend at least four per cent of their annual USD 250,000 Financial Assistance Programme (FAP) allocation from FIFA on the women’s game. In 2005 the percentage was increased to ten per cent. Just two years later, after observing the correlation between the increased investment and the strides being made in the quality of women’s football, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter quickly championed a further raise in the mandatory amount allocated to women’s football to the current 15 per cent.

At the same time, FIFA offers tailormade support through specific women’s football development programmes along with additional financial assistance so that its members are able to not only spend this money, but also to spend it wisely. Through its Member Associations & Development Division, FIFA provides courses, seminars and projects aimed at raising the standard and profile of women’s football around the world. The broad range of support on offer covers not only the obvious areas out on the pitch, such as grassroots courses, coaching and refereeing programmes, but also important “behind the scenes” topics (such as governance, management, strategic planning, marketing and revenue generation, finance, IT, communication, facility development) which are all supported within FIFA’s general football management development programme, PERFORMANCE.

The rise in investment and the increased breadth of FIFA’s development programmes are designed to help every association, no matter what their current rung on the women’s football ladder. It is clear, however, that the most striking effects can be seen in associations which have placed deliberate emphasis on improving the game in their country.

More than the mandatory
The Costa Rican Football Association (FCF) is just one example of the many associations around the world which have gone far beyond the mandatory 15 per cent spend on women’s football (see “Big Spenders” list on page 35) to currently plough more than half its FIFA funds into women’s football development. Most of the money is used to support Costa Rica’s national women’s team programme, which involves the country’s senior squad, its Olympic side and teams at the U-20 and U-15 levels.

“These teams were normally financed purely by the association, so the additional funding allows us to further strengthen the national team programme and also provide financial support to our women’s league, mainly for the education of coaches and trainers,” explains Victor Hugo Alfaro, Director of the FCF’s Executive Committee and President of the Costa Rican women’s league. “The women’s game has grown in recent years, and more and more young girls want to play the sport. We are really keen to meet this demand and take Costa Rican women’s football to a level where we can boast a strong organisational structure, achieve regular participation at all the Women’s World Cup categories and start helping our best players to take part in the world’s leading leagues.”

An important milestone on this journey was reached in March, when FIFA’s Executive Committee selected Costa Rica to be the hosts of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2014 – a decision which Alfaro believes will further help promote the women’s game in his country.

“Being the first Central American country to organise a World Cup fills us with pride,” Alfaro told FIFA World. “But we also see it as a major challenge for us as a country. We believe that the tournament will help us not only to complete the development and promotion of women’s football in Costa Rica, but also to develop our infrastructure, which is very important to football in general. On top of all that comes the invaluable experience that the FCF will gain from staging the event.”

Particularly when it comes to the latter point, the Costa Ricans will be able to count on strong support from FIFA, which is increasingly using the staging of FIFA competitions to provide a footballing legacy for host countries which continues long after the tournament is over. Working alongside FIFA’s Competitions Division, the Member Associations and Development team provides specialist support so that the hosts can take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the event in question – for example in boosting the quantity and quality of coaches and referees so as to cope with the expected increase of young players after a successful tournament.

Help is also available for the promotion and marketing of the event. Already in 2008, FIFA gave strong support to New Zealand and Chile ahead of their hosting of that year’s U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups. A wide range of initiatives from mayoral exchange programmes to TV and media workshops and visits by FIFA Ambassadors helped to drum up large amounts of publicity for the tournaments, which in turn managed to generate unprecedented levels of interest in women’s football in both countries.

“I was fortunate to be part of the Local Organising Committee for the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008 and saw first hand what an impact it had on the development of women’s football in the region,” says former New Zealand international Priscilla Duncan, who now works for the Oceania Football Confederation as their Head of Media and Communications.

“The tournament itself drew strong public support and attracted a whole new generation of girls to the game, but it was also the activities, such as mayoral exchanges, the ambassador road show and the FIFA development course hosted by New Zealand which helped to ensure a lasting legacy.”

Namibian foundations
While hosting a FIFA women’s football tournament is certainly a good way of boosting the game in a particular country, it is not the only option available. The Namibian Football Association (NFA), for example, has not yet put itself forward to stage a FIFA event, but has instead been busy laying down foundations for the future growth of the women’s game there.

“FIFA has been exceptional in the support that it has provided our association, from helping us create the basic structures for developing the game to providing equipment and building up the necessary trained personnel,” NFA General Secretary Barry Rukoro told FIFA World. “The courses in particular have enabled us to identify talented individuals who can guide our future development activities.”

With the support of FIFA, the Namibian Football Association were also able to forge a partnership with UNICEF, leading to a joint programme, “Galz and Goals”, which has helped establish and maintain a number of U-13 and U-15 girls’ leagues across the country. The project was partly financed from the FAP funds allocated to women’s football. FAP funds have also been used to set up senior women’s leagues in seven of Namibia’s 13 regions. For now, the focus is simply on increasing the opportunities available to women footballers. But, in the longer term, the association hopes its investments will also give it a competitive edge.

“In terms of population, Namibia is a fairly small country,” Rukoro explains. “We are proud of the fact that our senior men’s team has managed to qualify twice for the Africa Cup of Nations in the 21 years since our country achieved independence – a feat which many larger African nations are yet to achieve.

“However, if we are really to make an impact at the international level, we realise that women’s football is the way to go. Compared to the men’s game, there are fewer African countries paying proper attention to women’s football so small national associations with a strong ambition to one day qualify for a FIFA World Cup still stand a better chance through the women’s game. If we continue along the route we have taken, we are convinced that we will soon be pace-setters on the female side of African football.”

A first in Laos  
More than 10,000km away in South-East Asia, the Lao Football Federation (LFF) has shown a similarly ambitious approach to women’s football in Laos. A few years ago, the association applied successfully for a USD 400,000 FIFA Goal project grant to build a technical centre specifically for women’s football – the first time ever that Goal funding had been used in this way (with a second such project having now been approved in Iran). Completed in 2009, the Laos facility also includes 12 rooms providing accommodation, a canteen catering for up to 60 people and an office for the Lao Women’s Football Committee.

Used at first primarily by the Lao women’s national team, the centre has also since been used by a number of provincial teams, as well as for hosting national and local competitions, and for staging conferences, team meetings and courses for women’s clubs and schools.

“Women’s football was developing fast across the country, as indeed it still is, so it was clear to us that we needed a formal training centre,” says Dr Xaybandith Rasphone, chairman of the LFF’s Women’s Football Committee. “Having a facility like this has enabled our national team to prepare much better for international and regional competitions, as well as paving the way for the development of the next generation of young female players.”

Although clearly a long-term investment, the centre has already brought some success, with Rasphone pointing to the women’s team’s fourth-place finish on home soil at the 25th South East Asian Games in Vientiane as one early example. Later this year, the LFF will host the fifth edition of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship – a competition involving national teams from across South-East Asia, which has previously only been hosted by Laos’ larger neighbours, Vietnam and Myanmar.

“Hosting the AFF Women’s Championship will be a real honour for us, as well as being an opportunity to demonstrate the potential of women’s football in our country,” says Rasphone.

Success in Bangladesh  
While in South-East Asia FIFA’s support helped Laos to become first-time hosts of their regional women’s football tournament, a similar approach in South Asia actually led to the creation of a new regional competition.

After hearing complaints from coaches and players that their region suffered from a lack of international opportunities, the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) approached FIFA for assistance in organising a female version of the existing men’s South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship.

“All the countries in our region have national women’s teams now, but hardly any games were being arranged between these national sides,” explains BFF General Secretary Al Musabbir Sadi. “So it was a simple decision that we would organise South Asia’s first-ever international women’s football tournament, something that we see as a first big and important step in developing women’s football all over the region.”

Taking place in the beautiful Bangladeshi fishing port of Cox’s Bazar in December last year, the SAFF Women’s Football Championship exceeded all expectations with nearly all the matches played in front of sell-out crowds and seven of the 15 games being picked up on live television. In addition to giving financial backing to the event, FIFA’s Member Associations & Development Division used its new PERFORMANCE programme to provide the tournament’s organisers with expertise in developing a marketing and PR strategy, as well as helping to bring in sponsors and coordinate planning with the eight participating teams.

“The tournament was a huge success, thanks to FIFA’s PERFORMANCE programme and also to our strong cooperation with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation,” concludes Al Musabbir Sadi. “Everyone worked really well together with the goal of developing women’s football throughout the region.”

As reported in the cover article of the March 2011 edition of FIFA World, women’s football has also been making steady progress in West Asia with the recent establishment of several national leagues and a growing number of international fixtures and tournaments, including the ARABIA 2010 event which took place in Bahrain last October. The significance of such progress in West, South and South-East Asia is that these are three of the biggest regions still waiting to send their first representatives to the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Indian women’s team can build on their 1-0 win over Nepal at the SAFF event to mount a serious challenge for World Cup qualification in 2015, or whether ARABIA 2010 finalists Jordan and Egypt can start planning the first Women’s World Cup appearance by a team from the Middle East. But in almost every corner of the world, it seems that steps are now being taken in the right direction.