A press conference was held in Toronto on 4 August 2014 to mark the eve of the big kick-off in the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014. Leading figures in attendance included FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter; the Chairman of the Organising Committee for the U-20 Women's World Cup and FIFA Vice-President, David Chung; the Deputy Chairwoman of the Organising Committee and FIFA Executive Committee Member, Lydia Nsekera; the Chairman of the National Organising Committee and President of the Canadian Soccer Association, Victor Montagliani; and the CEO of the National Organising Committee for the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™, Peter Montopoli.
Numerous topics were covered, ranging from the impending U-20 competition to the development of women's football in general and Canada's potential bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup™. FIFA.com brings you a selection of the key remarks.
Joseph S. Blatter
On Canada's hosting of the FIFA U-20 World Cup and FIFA Women's World Cup™
As of today and for the entire next year – during which FIFA will put on the first-ever 24-team Women's World Cup – Canada will be the nerve centre of women's football. This event is not a test or a dress rehearsal, but it could be an indication that Canada is ready to welcome 24 teams, having only hosted 16-team tournaments up to this point.
On women's access to football
What we want is for anyone and everyone, all around the world, to have the chance to play the game. On this note, we are holding the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Jordan, in the heart of the Arab world. I am sure that the example set by playing the tournament there will help women in that part of the world to gain the same rights, where football is concerned, as their male counterparts. This could bring about improvements to civil rights in those countries where women do not have the same rights as men.
In 2013 we at FIFA elected a woman, Lydia Nsekera, to our Executive Committee for the first time in our 100-year history. Football is a macho sport and it is still a challenge to ensure women are represented on the game's governing bodies. But as of now, we have one full female member and two co-opted women members of the Executive Committee. I am a staunch advocate of women's football. I remember being criticised at the 1986 Congress, back when we did not yet run any international women's competitions. Then we held the first Women's World Cup in 1991, and now we have a 24-team World Cup, the U-17 World Cup and the U-20 World Cup, and women's football has been part of the Olympic Games since 1996. Nevertheless, it is still not easy for women to hold positions of power within FIFA. One day hopefully there will be a female FIFA President and all that will change.
On the possibility of the FIFA World Cup™ being staged in Canada
Canada has the chance to show the whole world just how good a host it can be for FIFA competitions, from the U-20 men's tournament and the U-19 and U-20 women's events – all featuring 16 teams – to next year's 24-team Women's World Cup. Under our continental rotation system, the tournament will now be being held in Europe and then Asia, after which we will be able to go back to Africa or the Americas, particularly North America. You [Canada] had the courage to take on the challenge of hosting a 24-team Women's World Cup for the first time and I am convinced that you will do a good job and the local people will respond positively.
On artificial pitches, which will be used in three of the four host cities
It used to be the case that playing on artificial turf was a nightmare. The quality was poor; it was no better than a carpet. But the quality has improved vastly since then. Artificial pitches are the future. Wherever football is played, all over the world, there is an increasing lack of space for training and competitive pitches. On top of that, with climate change and the heavy rainfall it brings, in some countries it is virtually impossible to play on natural grass more than once a week. Young people across the globe have got used to playing on this surface. We played on different surfaces, both natural and artificial, at Canada 2007, and there were no more injuries on one or the other, but more goals were scored on the artificial pitches. It is easier to play on a good artificial pitch than a bad natural one, especially when it comes to precision. At stadiums with a roof, like the Amsterdam ArenA, the grass has to be changed three times a year; otherwise the turf becomes unplayable. One day people will stop and wonder, 'Why change the grass three times a year when we can play on the same surface year-round?' We just have to give it a little time to catch on, like all new developments
On hosting the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup
It is an honour and a privilege to welcome this prestigious competition. This World Cup will be a showcase for the future of women's football and a prelude to next year's big event, the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015. As a lot of people are aware, our stock is very high when it comes to successfully hosting FIFA tournaments in the past, such as the 2007 U-20 World Cup and the very first U-19 Women's World Championship in 2002. The country was galvanised to such an extent [in 2002] that almost 48,000 people turned out to watch the final. That tournament was a launch pad for a number of the players currently in Canada's women's national team, such as Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod and Diana Matheson, as well as for the likes of [Brazilian star and five-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year] Marta. This is another opportunity for Canada to introduce the rising stars of women's football.
On women's presence in senior management positions and on governing bodies
This is probably far less of an issue in Canada than in many other countries. What makes football here unique is that women's football eclipses the men's game. More people know Christine Sinclair than any other player, including any of the men at Toronto FC, Montreal Impact or the Vancouver Whitecaps. I am not sure you can say that women are under-represented in football in our country. Even on the administrative and management side, there is a reasonable balance. One area in which we still need to make progress, however, is coaching. We can bring home this message to other countries through women's football, which breaks down gender barriers.
On the development of women's football
Every World Cup is an opportunity to showcase the growth of the game on the biggest possible stage. But the party and top-class spectacle we have in store should not make us lose sight of the fact that many young girls and women worldwide still do not have the chance to play football and we must persist with our efforts to develop women's football. I hope that this edition will inspire scores of young girls around the world to take up football, as well as encouraging women and former players to train to become coaches, administrators or even – why not? – future heads of national football federations.