’s latest report on youth football development looks at the importance of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and FIFA U-20 World Cup, in both the men’s and women’s games. In addition to their sporting appeal and the crowning of new world champions every two years in each age category, the competitions constitute a long-term challenge for every nation that qualifies, and even more so for the hosts.

The list of countries that have been offered the privilege of staging at least one of these four events is a long one, but aside from the sport’s traditional powers, numerous nations that are not necessarily accustomed to top-level football have also discovered the joys of organising such global events. From Trinidad and Tobago to Finland, and not forgetting Peru, Thailand, New Zealand and Nigeria – all proved up to the challenge and have reaped the ensuing rewards.

The latest example is that of Azerbaijan, which is presently readying itself for the big kick-off to the third edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. With ten million inhabitants spread across an area of just under 86,000 km², the former Soviet republic has never participated in a FIFA-run tournament since gaining its independence in 1991.

But it is now, despite its modest size, on the verge of proving itself more than capable of hosting a major sporting event, thanks in part to its youth development efforts.

Imprint and legacy
“It wasn’t easy, because football doesn’t really run in people’s veins here,” explained former Germany international Sissy Raith, coach of Azerbaijan’s U-17 side. “Azerbaijan has strong athletes in individual sports, but they don’t have as many in team sports, especially ball games, and particularly where women are concerned. Two years ago, there weren’t any at all,” she continued.

Raith’s good work, combined with that of the Azerbaijani Football Association, led to the implementation of an U-15 and U-17 league, and the formation of a national U-17 women’s team.

Turkey’s football culture is obviously considerably more developed, but in terms of organising FIFA competitions, they are currently rubbing shoulders with Azerbaijan at the starting line. Having been granted the right to host the male version of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2013, Turkish football hopes to make the most of the experience.

“Turkey is completely prepared to put on this event. I’m convinced that this U-20 World Cup will become a source of inspiration for the young people in our country,” said Servet Yardimci, Vice-President of the Turkish FA.

Hosting FIFA competitions has been essential to our success and is part of our future strategy.

Peter Montopoli, General Secretary of the Canadian FA

Anxious to support development work in countries bidding to host tournaments, FIFA also takes into account the legacy that will be left within those that are chosen. The most recent example of this, and the one that received the most media coverage, is South Africa, who did an excellent job of staging the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, but every tournament leaves its mark on the host nation’s infrastructure.

“The FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup led to the construction of four new stadiums and helped football to become the fastest-growing sport among young girls in Chile,” said Harold Mayne-Nicholls, former President of the Chilean FA, referring to the 2008 event, which was viewed as a resounding success.

“A total attendance of over 350,000 fans, a lot of interest shown by the government and by sponsors, and good TV viewing figures demonstrate the long-term benefits of our decision to put our hat in the ring,” he added.

This is an opinion that is shared at the headquarters of the Canadian FA, who organised the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1987, the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in 2002 and the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007, and who are preparing to welcome the top women’s teams in 2014 for the U-20 contest, which will serve as a dress rehearsal for the senior FIFA Women’s World Cup™ the following year.

“Bidding for FIFA events is an excellent catalyst for carrying out our strategic plan for football development in Canada,” said Peter Montopoli, General Secretary of Canadian football’s governing body, who saw his national women’s side pick up a creditable bronze medal at London 2012. “Hosting FIFA competitions has been essential to our success and is part of our future strategy."

Support and promotion
Taking on U-17 or U-20 hosting duties brings with it the guarantee of building a strong and fervent following around the national side, as demonstrated by the nearly 30,000 supporters that cheered on the young Japanese XI that finished third at the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, while Nigeria could have sold out the national stadium in Abuja twice over when their men's team reached the final of the U-17 event in 2009.

Mexico, meanwhile, won the same tournament in front of roughly 100,000 people in 2011 in a packed Azteca Stadium, generating the best possible advert for the game at that level in the process.

Respectively hosts of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and its U-17 equivalent in 2008, Chile and New Zealand both saw their number of licenses increase significantly between 2006 and 2011. The Oceania representatives in particular witnessed a 41 per cent jump during that period.

All of these reasons and more will encourage countries that are fanatical about football to continue with their development work so that they too can have a turn at enjoying the benefits of organising a global tournament, and helping their national game to take full advantage. India, a country that visited in early September, is now seriously considering bidding to host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

“It would give our players, as well as our coaches, backroom staff and administration officials a real shot in the arm in terms of motivation,” said Scott O’Donell, FIFA’s Technical Director of regional academies in India.

“It would be such a great opportunity for our players, but would also create the possibility of being able to hire more Indian coaches and obtaining a better quality of working conditions. It would be a medium-term goal for all of us, and even a long-term one, as these players could form the spine of the team that will one day be battling to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” concluded O’Donell.