For over a decade, many of the most important figures in football have attended the annual International Football Arena (IFA) conference to exchange information and discuss pertinent football matters.
The sport's global leaders met for the first time in Zurich in 1999, and since 2007, the IFA conference has also taken place in Asia (2007/08 IFA Conference in Beijing, 2009 IFA Conference in Kuala Lumpur and 2010/11 IFA Round Table in New Delhi).
Once again representatives from 28 different countries convened in Zurich on 7 and 8 November 2011 to discuss the beautiful game, with women's football also on this year's agenda.
FIFA Head of Women's Competitions Tatjana Haenni, Swiss international Lara Dickenmann, DFB Wirtschaftsdienste GmbH Managing Director Ulrich Wolter and President of FC Zurich Ancillo Canepa all spoke about the distinctions, beauty and uniqueness of the women's game, all in the spirit of: "This is why we love women's football - and why we're investing in it."
Potential not yet realised
"Do you really know what women's football is all about?" asked Haenni as she began her speech on the development of the women's game. "How do you picture it in your head when you talk about it? Do you think it's a new sport? If so, you'd be wrong! Women's football has been played since the end of the 19th century, start of the 20th century."
That said, much has changed even over the past 20 years, from the very first FIFA Women's World Cup™ in China in 1991 to the 2011 edition in Germany just a few months ago. Twelve countries contested the 1991 tournament, in 2011 it was 16. The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada will take the feminine side of the sport into a new dimension with 24 teams due to take part. While 110 matches were played in qualifying for China 1991, that figure rose to 355 for Germany 2011 which saw 63 million people tune in for the Final between USA and Japan live on television.
"Germany 2011 was a major milestone for women's football – but we're a long way from exhausting its potential just yet. There are cultural challenges, the role of women in society and aspects such as infrastructure and financial support which all need addressing. FIFA supports the development of women's football worldwide and we hope many more will follow our lead," Haenni explained to the delegates, emphasising her belief that women's football requires its own structures. "What women's football needs most is more female decision-makers, more women in leading positions in football."
Pace and elegance combined
Pace, elegance, technique and dynamism are all characteristics widely associated with the women's game – and embodied by Brazilian superstar Marta. The FIFA World Player represents what modern women's football is all about. She is versatile, possesses incredible technique and elegance, not to mention lightning speed.
"These days, female athletes are strong personalities," continued Haenni. "We get the feeling that the players have a lot of respect for one another, the officials and the referees. Women's football is played in a very fair manner. The players don't dive – yet – and they also don't demand yellow cards – yet."
Meanwhile, FC Zurich President Ancillo Canepa revealed: "The reason I like women's football is that the players don't moan. They're thankful and not spoilt. That's the impression I get at FC Zurich, anyway. They recognise the support they're getting from their club and you can see they're enjoying playing football."
"I think we're helping the images of clubs," agreed Olympique Lyon star Lara Dickenmann, reminding those in attendance of the special role of women's footballers in society. "We're not bringing in huge sums of money, but we're helping in different way."
Based on the enthralling clashes produced at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup over the summer, passion and entertainment can also be added to the list of words used to describe women's football. "We had a total of 700,000 spectators in the stadiums, many of them for the first time," said Ulrich Wolter of the German FA (DFB). "The interesting thing is that it's a different group of supporters to those which watch the men's game. Still, we have to be realistic. The World Cup was a great success, but increasing attendances at domestic level is going to be a slow process."
Even so, the foundations have been laid and the success of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup has given those responsible plenty of reason to continue promoting and supporting the development of women football – whether at national, international or club level.