With the kick-off to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 fast approaching, the women’s game has been garnering more interest in the host country, where a growing number of football fans are looking forward to the most high-profile sporting event ever to be held in their homeland.

Ahead of the prestigious competition, which starts on 30 September, the Jordanians have now begun to implement a development plan for women’s football. The first stage of this took the form of an inter-school tournament for young girls, organised by the Jordanian Football Association, in cooperation with the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for Jordan 2016 and the Jordanian Ministry of Education.

Between 8 and 14 May, 460 girls representing 44 state-run schools were given the opportunity to compete in stadiums with referees, while wearing proper football kits. It proved to be an incredible few days for the participants, the majority of whom had never played football in such a way before.

The competition reached its climax on the last day in One Goal Stadium, an arena built with the support of FIFA. Most of the competing schools took part in the final-day activities, which saw the staging of the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and final, from which Al Dahya School eventually emerged victorious.

Lasting legacy
“We’re very satisfied; I think we’ve succeeded in bringing the girls and the game of football together,” said a visibly delighted Samar Nassar, Chief Executive Officer of the LOC.

“Most of them had never experienced anything like that, even during physical education lessons. We were able to provide them with something unique. By following the matches and talking to the girls, I could see that the competition had achieved its goal. They shrugged off their fears and showed us their love of football.

“This is the first time that a tournament has attracted such a large number of schools and girls. I believe that we’ve laid the foundations for the future and attained our prime objective, which is to ensure that the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup leaves a lasting legacy.”

Broadening the base
The Jordanian FA’s women’s division has put in place a framework that has not only bolstered the country’s female leagues but has also led to the organisation of a number of Live your Goals festivals, a FIFA initiative aimed at developing women’s football worldwide. The festivals – which were held numerous times in various regions last year – and this recent schools competition have helped to strengthen the women’s game in Jordan.

“We wanted to use this event to expand the base and boost football’s popularity among girls, their families and civil society as a whole,” explained Abeer Rantisi, head of women’s football at the Jordanian FA.

“We split the tournament into regions: centre, north and south. The teams that qualified for the final stages all met in Amman. It was a great success, because we were able to see how much the girls love football and how keen they are to play rather than just watch. Women’s football must develop in parallel with its male equivalent, and this is an encouraging start.”

Beneficial impact
As for the teachers involved, such as Hanadi Abou Fara, who teaches in Al Ramtha Governorate, located in the north of the country, they were able to confirm that there is no longer a stigma attached to girls playing football and that certain barriers have indeed fallen.

“Women’s football is quite new to us,” she said. “The girls weren’t familiar with it, but that all changed with this competition, which has given them courage and confidence. They also learned to communicate on the pitch to achieve a common goal. I now encourage all girls – including my own – to play football, as it has numerous positive effects that go beyond the results on the pitch.”

Her colleague, Isra Al Muhtadi, from Amman Governorate, expounded on these benefits: “Taking part in sport and football is very important for girls. It improves their skills, gives their self-confidence a boost and helps their physical development. Girls should definitely play football, which is a fantastic game that is not just reserved for men.”

Discernible joy
The excitement felt by the budding young footballers was only matched by the enthusiasm prevalent among the spectators, who cheered vigorously every time the ball ended up in the back of the net. At the end of each fixture, the girls congratulated each other and immediately began to look forward to their next match.

One of the participants, Hala Fadil, who showed some great attacking attributes, shared her thoughts on the event after one of her team’s victories. “I love football. I’ve been given the chance to play with my friends and to meet girls from other schools across Jordan. I’m happy to have had this unique experience, and I hope that it will be repeated again in years to come.”

Another young attendee, Yara Al Wakid, was in complete agreement. “Football has helped my personality to develop,” she said. “I met lots of other girls at the tournament. We learned that it’s not winning that counts, but good sportsmanship, especially after a defeat. My family is proud that I took part and glad I that was able to burn so much energy. I’m looking forward to following the U-17 Women’s World Cup and watching girls play at the highest level.”

There is no doubt that in the days ahead those who participated in the schools tournament will discuss it with their friends and classmates who did not take part, encouraging them to take the plunge next time around.

It is also highly likely that they will now take a closer look at the 15 teams that are due to arrive in Jordan from all over the world for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Official Draw, taking place on 30 May, and give their full support to the hosts, who will be making their first appearance at that level.