FIFA has set itself the ambitious goal of inspiring and motivating all member associations in their work in order to increase the number of girls and women playing football globally from 30 to 45 million ahead of the next FIFA Women's World Cup™ in France in 2019.
There is a lot of work to do to make this happen. The sixth FIFA Women's Football Symposium, which took place from 3-5 July, invited all member associations to come together and discuss the challenges faced in every country in relation to promoting the women's game and accomplishing this objective. In the end, representatives from 172 associations were in attendance, including 58 presidents and 37 secretaries general.
The significance of the occasion was summed up by Lydia Nsekera, the chairwoman of the Committee for Women's Football and the FIFA Women's World Cup, and a FIFA Executive Committee member: "This symposium is part of FIFA's commitment to promote, develop and invest in women's football. It is an extraordinary opportunity for the football community to define a vitally important global strategy for this sport's future."
While circumstances vary in every country, sharing individual experiences paved the way for the identification of common tools to help achieve a range of goals. The symposium combined talks and presentations with small-sized working group sessions, in which issues mentioned on stage and possible solutions could be discussed at greater length.
The first sessions placed special emphasis on the need to increase the presence of women in governance positions, so that they can have greater input on decisions made about women's football.
Frederique Jossinet, of the French Football Federation (FFF), highlighted a milestone in the development of women's football in her country: "In 2011 we had elections and the president, Mr Noel Le Graet, who was elected appointed a woman as Secretary General, Brigitte Henriques, who is strongly committed to the development and promotion of the women's game. That was a crucial step."
Beyond the pitch and boardrooms, more women are also needed in the dugout. FIFA has therefore taken the initiative to boost the ranks of women coaches, referees, sporting directors and administrators, recommending that associations get the ball rolling by increasing the number of female members. One decision in this respect was already taken at the FIFA Executive Committee meeting in March 2015.
At least one of the coaching staff in their U-17 women's national teams as well as ideally 30 per cent of all officials shall be female. FIFA also recently launched both the Female Leadership Development Programme and the FIFA Scholarship for B-Licensed Female Coaches to encourage more women to get involved in football, while the Live Your Goals programme continues to expand across the globe following its introduction in 2011. They are part of a series of development programmes on offer to the member associations, who play a crucial role in helping to realise the global potential for women’s football.
Structures and opportunities
Another challenge involves setting up solid structures to make football accessible for girls everywhere. The attendees pondered possible methods to create or develop, where applicable, stable and sustainable competitions and systems. One of the examples commented on was Germany's extensive grassroots scene and commitment to engaging former players in the development of women's football.
How many games should be played in a season? What is the ideal number of teams for a high-quality league? Should men's football be involved in this process? The debate led by April Heinrichs, the former USA coach and a world champion during her playing days, sparked a lively exchange of opinions that the participants will doubtless be able to draw on for their respective needs.
Two interlinked cornerstones for the development of women's football are economic backing and getting fans on board. On this note, the insights from two companies that are heavily involved in the sport proved extremely interesting. Allianz outlined their sponsorship-support model for German clubs and the national team, while the Executive Vice President of Marketing for Fox, Robert Gottlieb, detailed the communications strategy employed by the network to ensure that broadcasts of US women's national team matches are a resounding success. Other valuable and highly inspirational marketing success stories came from associations from far and wide, such as Guam and Samoa.
A joined-up vision
The final session of the symposium reiterated the need to tackle the relevant challenges from every angle. Changes must focus on the three areas mentioned above: governance, competition and the business side of the game. It is not, however, all about money. Legislation can also play a role: a shift in sports education policies could make a vast difference.
Furthermore, any plans put in place must draw on the experience, views and needs of the stars of the show: the players. Julie Foudy and Veronica Boquete flew the flag in this regard and made some important comments.
A presentation was also given by the International Working Group on Women and Sport providing an overview of the Brighton Plus Helsinki Declaration – a declaration setting out principles to support the empowerment of women in society and to promote gender equality, which FIFA signed in March 2015 to mark International Women’s Day.
Experiences, ideas, requests and proposals. After all this and more, the sixth FIFA Women's Football Symposium concluded with several recommendations being put forward to guide the work of FIFA and its member associations in the coming years, based on three core objectives:
- Increasing the number of women in decision-making roles in the football community.
- Improving plans and structures to guarantee a level playing field for access to football, free from gender discrimination.
- Developing commercial and communications strategies to boost the value of women's football.