The year 1986 has gone down in history as pivotal and decisive in the development of women's football. At the 45th FIFA Congress in Mexico City, Norwegian delegate Ellen Wille took to the microphone and demanded, in the name of her association and all women players, much greater effort from world football's governing body in promoting the women's game, pointing to the huge untapped potential in this area.
“I'd had to fight to get women's football recognised in Norway, and I wanted to continue that internationally. So I took to the stage at the FIFA Congress, and pointed out that women's football was mentioned nowhere in any of the documents. I also said it was high time the women had their own World Cup and took part in the Olympic Football Tournament," the veteran official exclusively told FIFA.com.
To the surprise of one or two less forward-looking male delegates, the reaction was more decisive than many had expected. Joao Havelange, chair of the Congress, not only unreservedly agreed with the Norwegian delegate, but also gave a personal assurance of his support for the women's football movement, establishing an ad hoc committee to deal with the matter immediately.
“It was a big success," Wille remarked. Her wishes were ultimately granted; after all, the current tournament in Germany is the sixth FIFA Women's World Cup, although she now admits to enormous tension before addressing the massed ranks of the delegates. “Oh yes, I was very nervous, because I was about to address 150 men. We'd spoken about it back in Norway, and we agreed a woman should make the speech and not a man. After that, it was only logical that I should travel to Mexico."
Mother of Norwegian women's football
Wille certainly regards herself as a pioneering force in the women's game. “At home, they call me the mother of Norwegian women's football," she revealed, a description which speaks volumes about her contribution to the sport. “Women's football has taken a huge step forward. Women are playing the game all over the world now. Thinking back to the first World Cup, only 45 countries took part in qualifying, but it's up to 122 now. I think that says it all."
Ellen regards the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ as another milestone in the development of the game. “They've sold 720,000 tickets, and the crowd for the Opening Match in Berlin was 73,680, which is magnificent. Women deserve to play in a setting like that. The most important thing of all is that women play in front of crowds, and that the media sit up and take notice."
She is especially pleased at the number of younger girls taking up football these days. “I see little girls riding past me on their bikes with a ball on the luggage rack. They're not just playing football for a couple of hours a week, they're doing it all the time. I think it's very important that girls start early, not just in organised leagues, but casually and for fun too."
She feels the current Norway side is good enough at least to make the quarter-finals in Germany. “It's a very young team, although they recently beat USA. However, that was only a practice match and I don't know whether it was particularly meaningful. But I hope they make the quarter-finals, and if they get lucky, maybe they'll go even further." However, she names another team as favourites for the trophy. “The Germans are at home. I think they'll win it." We will only know whether she is right on 17 July, but we already know for a fact that Ellen Wille played a truly vital role in getting women's football to where it is today.