A giant replica of the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy won by Zinedine Zidane and his Bleus team-mates in 1998 is on permanent show at the French National Football Academy at Clairefontaine, near Paris.

This Thursday, however, the most famous piece of silverware in football found itself momentarily upstaged as its women’s counterpart took pride of place at French football’s training headquarters. After making stops in Spain, China, the USA, Germany and Brazil, the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Trophy was in France for the sixth leg of the Canada 2015 Live Your Goals Tour.

The visit provided the French Football Federation (FFF) with the perfect opportunity to celebrate women’s football by organising a special open day at Clairefontaine. Attending the event were leading figures from the sport, the media, who turned out in force, and nearly 200 youngsters from local schools. As well as exploring the national training complex’s superb facilities and taking part in a host of activities, they also had the chance to inspect the Trophy from close up and watch France’s women’s team being put through their paces in a training session.

Les Bleues, who are gearing up for a friendly against USA in Lorient this Sunday, took time out from their preparations to meet their fans, giving their coach Philippe Bergeroo time to share his views on the open day with FIFA.com.

“It’s pretty amazing to have a day like this,” he said. “It allows young girls the opportunity to rub shoulders with the French women’s team, watch them train and talk to them. An event like this is very important in terms of our continuing efforts to promote women’s football in France. We’ve got 80,000 registered players, and days like today allow us to raise the profile of the women’s game and to ensure that more and more young women go along to football academies.”

“We’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm from the public and the media,” commented footballer Gaetane Thiney, who is also working with France’s National Football Committee in encouraging girls aged six to 13 to take up the game. “We’re seeing a real impact at four and over. Things are changing. They’re really moving now.”

Bergeroo’s players were only too happy to mingle with their admiring fans, happily signing autographs and posing for photos, with centre-half Laura Georges even engaging in a long discussion with a group of teenagers, who hung on her every word.

“I told them to enjoy what they’re doing,” the Paris Saint-Germain player later explained. “They’re dreaming of making the elite and I hope they get there, but first and foremost you need to get enjoyment out of it. Football’s going to instil them with certain values and help them become upstanding women. After all, that’s the goal of the game. It’s not about imitating others and trying to reach the top, no matter what it takes, just to become a star. I was lucky enough to have some very good role models when I was younger, and I learned that you have to be true to yourself.”

Competition and development
“It’s wonderful to be here and see the national team training and the media looking on, to see children playing in a football tournament and for them to have the chance to meet the players they admire,” commented FIFA Deputy Director of Competitions Tatjana Haenni, expressing her satisfaction at the end of a successful day. “It’s been a fantastic day for football at all levels.”

As Haenni went on to say, however, there is no more effective means of promoting the women’s game than success on the pitch, an objective Les Bleues will be aiming for at Canada 2015.

“There’s a strong link between competition and development,” she explained. “If you’re talking about grassroots football, a World Cup can help increase the number of young girls taking up the game. If the quality is there and resources are in place, then the pace of development increases. It’s important for me to make that link, and that’s why it’s so great for me to be here.

“Through the programmes it has put in place, the French FA is showing that you can change things. You need to have a plan, a strategy, and you need to have people who can give the sport the resources it requires to develop, not only by getting more players involved but by ensuring there we have women involved in officiating games, coaching and administration.”

The day came to a close with a ceremony presided over by former France international and current FFF Secretary General Brigitte Henriques.

Underscoring Haenni’s well-chosen words, Henriques introduced a film relating the story of women’s football in France. As well as focusing on the pioneering players who have changed mindsets over the years, the film highlighted the huge progress made possible by the success Les Bleues have enjoyed in major competitions in recent years.

The fact that the most prestigious trophy in the women’s game was on display at Clairefontaine is a telling reminder of that progress.