Women’s football has grown exponentially and rapidly in recent years. A high quality and hugely competitive FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ was followed by a similarly successful event at last year’s London Olympics, with both tournaments notable for a massive spike in spectator and media interest.
Women’s football at grassroots level is also developing at a significant rate and, importantly, cutting across social and gender divides across all corners of the globe. There are now over 29 million female players with girls comprising 12 per cent of youth players. Underpinning this generational change is FIFA’s commitment to developing the game and providing an opportunity for women from all walks of life to be involved in football at some level.
FIFA have actively supported Member Associations around the world develop women’s football by providing various resources, such as financial support, education and sports material, as well as technical backing. “In the last two years, we have committed more resources to help and accompany our Member Associations in developing the women’s game, to lay the foundations for more and more women and girls playing football or participating in the game,” said Thierry Regenass, FIFA’s Director of Member Associations & Development.
Building from the top
This year’s FIFA Congress provided a landmark moment with Burundi Football Association President Lydia Nsekera taking her place on the FIFA Executive Committee in the first-ever election for a female candidate. Nsekera is accompanied by two other candidates as co-opted members in Sonia Bien-Aime (Turks and Caicos Islands) and Moya Dodd (Australia), raising the number of females seated on the Executive Committee to three.
“FIFA's work in women's football around the world is hugely exciting,” said Dodd. “In some countries, the women's game has barely begun, and in others, it is closing in on professionalism. I see so much potential all around the world because everywhere, women and girls just want to be involved.
“Giving women and girls the means to participate in the world's greatest game is a wonderful opportunity for every Member Association in FIFA - not just because it is fair to balance up the opportunities between boys and girls, but because it makes football better and stronger to include everyone in our game.”
FIFA’s support for the women’s game continues to grow exponentially, a fact borne out by recent statistics. In the past year alone the combined sum of development programmes for women’s football makes for impressive reading.
There have been 48 projects to support women’s football leagues development across 48 Member Associations. There have also been 104 festivals organised worldwide with 49 Member Associations entering in the Girls festivals programme, with over 16,000 participants since the launch last year.
Four Member Associations have implemented the Live Your Goals campaign, while legacy programmes have been established in Japan, Azerbaijan and Costa Rica linked to the hosting of FIFA Women’s U-17 and U-20 World Cups. Discussions are currently underway for a similar legacy programme in Canada as they prepare to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the preceding U-20 equivalent.
Live Your Goals is a ready-to-use FIFA campaign that any Member Association can utilise to promote the women’s game, while legacy programmes around FIFA Women’s World Cups aim at leveraging the exposure and momentum from such events to spark development in the host country.
But, perhaps most impressive, is a figure of 308 women’s football projects that have been implemented so far during 2012/13 involving 120 Member Associations. These include support to women’s leagues, girls festivals, legacy programmes, coaching and refereeing courses, women’s football assessments, regional and promotional seminars and other events.
Such projects have taken place across a hugely diverse range of cultures and ethnicities. “FIFA has played and continues to play a vital role in creating path ways for women’s football development in our Association through training of coaches, referees and administrators,” said Jacqueline Gertze, Chairperson of the Namibia Football Association Women Standing Committee and Executive Member. “We at the NFA take pride in implementing and sustaining these programmes and to add quality to each programme’s growth and sustainability.”
One of FIFA primary goals is to not only increase the awareness of women’s football, but enhance the opportunities for girls to participate. “During the last decade in Northern Ireland the landscape of girls and women’s football has changed dramatically,” said Northern Ireland national team captain Ashley Hutton. “When I was a young girl there were few opportunities to play in organised teams and there was virtually no football in schools. Today, women’s football is afforded more publicity and resources and, as a consequence, more girls and women are starting to play football.”
A core principle of FIFA’s aims for women’s football is the enhancement of both structures and infrastructure, plus the establishment of women’s leagues in all Member Associations. “Women’s football has seen really exciting growth in New Zealand over the past few years and FIFA’s support over that period has been invaluable,” said Emma Humphries, Women’s Development Manager at New Zealand Football. “FIFA’s support in 2013 will see a more financially sustainable national league, with a longer season to help us develop our future female coaches, players and referees.”
Now FIFA’s focus is on developing the next generation of players, administrators and referees. “As we have seen recently at the FIFA Congress with the election and co-optation of three female members of the FIFA Executive Committee, FIFA’s commitment to women’s football is not limited to words,” said Regenass. “We are positively acting towards more women representation in the institution, as well as promoting women’s inclusion at all levels of football administration and leadership. But it is arguably our groundwork in the football development field that will ultimately make the biggest difference.
“These are very exciting times, because we can see the football world changing and make more and better space for women.”