The passion and enthusiasm on display at the last month's FIFA Women's football Com-unity seminar held in Vientiane, Laos, was tangible evidence that the region is a hotbed for the "more beautiful game", women's football that is.
Laos are ranked 4th in the Asean region, 15 in Asia, and 74 in the world rankings. Their men in contrast are 35th in Asia, and 172 in the world. Considering there was no local international women's football before 2006, it is a real achievement and indicates the potential that women's football has in the south-east Asian nation. As organisers of the 25th Sea Games in December 2009, Laotian football has a great opportunity to showcase its capacities and qualities in the game.
It is therefore no surprise that the Laos Football Federation (LFF) dedicated one of their Goal Projects specifically to women's football, a separate block in their Technical Centre fully equipped with meeting rooms and a dormitory. After the seminar opening and the presentations by FIFA's instructors the seminar heard some forthright views from Laos' main women's football protagonist, Ms Valy Vethsaphong, Vice-Chairman of the Women's Football Committee in the LFF, regarding the lack of attention paid to women's football in the country.
Some of the solutions suggested included: further need for development of the game at the provincial level; more support from LFF and the government; and, helping the media to be more pro-active towards women's football. The issues raised were taken on board by LFF president Pouvanh Vongsouthi who was expressed his gratitude to FIFA with the seminar allowing all relevant sectors to come together.
"We've never had this sort of chance in the past. But this has given us a chance for dialogue and LFF is ready to work with all the sectors here," said the LFF president. Laos football had for the first time witnessed the convergence of LFF, sponsors, players, coaches, media, NGOs and Government agencies under the same roof and all on the same page in development of women's football.
That Mr Vongsouthi assured all present that the LFF will discuss all the issues that had been raised, and will help women's football thrive in Laos, was testament to the common goal shared by the 40-odd participants for the success of women's football.
Some of the conclusions reached during the seminar:
Establishment of appropriate structure to govern and manage women's football in Laos;
Review the strategic plan for women's football to bring all activities into line with vision/mission and LFF overall objectives;
Establishment of school programmes with the Ministry of Education and the National Sports Council which incorporates three main elements: free access to pitches and facilities so that a school league for girls can be organised; a national girl's football day; and, a school promotional programme;
Establishment and implementation of a funding strategy for women's football incorporating government, NGO and commercial funding focused on three core product areas: national team; national league; and, school programmes;
Appointment of a LFF Communication and Marketing Officer;
Development of a LFF website and to progressively increase media coverage of the women's activities;
Development of a brand identity and positioning to promote positive image for women's football (for national team and girls league);
Development and distribution of posters with new branding to promote national team's involvement in the SEA games.
In his closing speech, the Vice-President of the National Sports Council, Mr Boualane Sylipanya confirmed his and the council's full support for the implementations of the conclusions and congratulated LFF for their efforts to further develop the women's game in Laos.
Highlighting the conclusion of the seminar was a historical match between the U-16 team's of Laos and Cambodia played under a blazing sun on 22 May at the LFF technical centre built as part of FIFA Goal Project. The very staging of the match proved a true testament to the regional passion for the sport with the Cambodians having made a 1,200 kilometre journey in the FA bus along narrow and windy roads.
For the record, Taiy Namphon and Nuing Boutsady scored in the first half for the hosts but the Cambodians came back strongly with Nith Pean pulling a goal back to conclude the scoring. Pean may not have full grasped the impact of her goal at the time but she will go down in Cambodian football history as the first girl to have scored in an international women's match for her country.
Immediately following the Com-Unity seminar a women's football coaching course was organised by FIFA 24-28 May conducted by Ms Vicki Linton (Australia) and coordinated by Dato' Yap Nyim Keong from the AFC Development Office, with 24 participants, including a several Laotian national team players, greatly enhancing their knowledge.