The growth in women’s football over recent years has been both remarkable and impressive. Indeed, the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ was a landmark event in that regard, being a catalyst for a new level of interest and involvement for women’s football. At the top end, strong attendances and TV audiences are witnessing a new high in terms of on-field quality. Further down the pyramid, player numbers are now over 30 million worldwide and continue to rise significantly with each passing year.

FIFA’s commitment to women’s football has been strong over this period, and that level of support increases with each passing year. And, with a view to further growing the game, 2016 has seen FIFA’s development activities for women’s football reach an all-time peak.

FIFA’s Women’s Football Development department worked tirelessly throughout the year, and the results, in terms of raw numbers, are simply overwhelming. No less than 136 of FIFA’s Member Associations benefited directly with the hosting of one of FIFA’s women’s football development programmes. There were a combined 559 activities implemented exclusively for women’s football development, with over 72,000 female players, coaches and administrators benefitting worldwide. The final figure includes donated equipment for 69,000 players.

Developing tomorrow’s leaders today
The tailor-made programmes implemented were as varied as the diverse spectrum of nations involved. Grassroots Festivals, League Development projects, Women's Football coaching courses, and Administration and Management courses are just a few of the programmes held across the world. There has also been an emphasis on providing an opportunity for former players, coaches and referees.

Two initiatives in particular - the FIFA Female Leadership Development programme and Live Your Goals – had a notable impact on the development of girls and women’s football worldwide.

The first of those – the Female Leadership Development Programme – is particularly important for developing off-field participation, particularly in nations where women’s football has traditionally struggled to gain a foothold. The main goal is to improve the gender balance in football decision-making by increasing the number of female leaders and role models. Early 2016 saw 33 global female leaders graduate from the programme and set off on a journey of football development in their specific areas.

Platform for youngsters to live their goals
Live Your Goals, which was initially launched just prior to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, is a grassroots programme aimed at encouraging girls to participate in football through a variety of fun activities. This year, the programme jumped to a record 213 events, incorporating 73 Member Associations.

Live Your Goals has proved a particularly effective tool in nations where women’s football is still in its infancy. One such nation is Kazakhstan, where the nation’s FA are warmly embracing the women’s game. Two thousand girls in seven different regions have now enjoyed Live Your Goals events, and many of those have signed up to continue playing football. Over the next two years, the Kazakhstan FA is aiming to bring football to the doorstep of every girl in the country, attracting more than 6,000 girls across a four-year programme.

Creating a lasting legacy
2016 was also marked by two landmark tournaments, with the FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women’s World Cups held in Papua New Guinea and Jordan, respectively. The latter was the first global women’s football tournament to be held in west Asia. Not only did the two tournaments provide yet more evidence of the rapid on-field growth of the game, but there was a concerted focus on providing a tangible and lasting legacy in both countries. FIFA worked closely with the host nations designing a tailor-made development programme to ensure that girls and women continue to thrive in the game for years to come.

Looking into the future, results of the FIFA Women’s Football Survey results are expected in the first quarter of 2017, providing a further opportunity to benchmark the various programmes as well as general growth in the game. Regardless of the figures, FIFA, through its Women’s Football Development department, will continue a commitment to the ongoing development of women’s football.