Uruguay working hard to develop women's football

  • Uruguayan FA looking to put the women’s game on a professional footing

  • Training grants programme introduced for budding coaches

  • FIFA Forward programme key to its funding

Now 41, Patricia Cor has been involved in women’s football in Uruguay since she was 19. One of the first women to register as a player with the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF), Cor had a 15-year playing career before helping to found not one, but two clubs. Such is her love for the game, however, that she wanted to do more and pass on her knowledge to new generations, a goal she has now achieved thanks to a coaching course funded by the FIFA Forward programme.

Using part of the funding provided by the programme, the AUF decided to make a firm commitment to the development of the women’s game and to putting it on a professional footing by awarding training grants to three male and three female coaches. They were already working with clubs, but had yet to receive the appropriate level of training. Among them is Cor, an assistant coach for River Plate of Montevideo's U-19 side.

“The AUF is looking to develop women’s football and make it a professional game in the medium term,” said AUF president Wilmar Valdez. “The training of coaching teams is a basic strategy for promoting the growth of the local league. The Forward programme has helped bring members of the coaching staff at women’s football clubs to the country’s leading training centres, which is only going to aid their development.”

It was with that objective in mind that the Uruguayan FA studied the grassroots situation closely, with a view to identifying a starting point.

“Women’s football is enjoying a boom in Uruguay, thanks in no small part to the fact that the country is hosting the U-17 Women’s World Cup,” said AUF’s executive secretary general, Andrea Lanfranco. “In response to that, we had a close look at who was heading up or advising on coaching in a sport that is completely amateur.

“We saw that there were people who’ve been working for many years and putting a lot of love into it, but without ever having done a course,” she added. “We thought it would be a good idea to give them the chance to gain a coaching badge because with the new licence system, they were going to be frozen out.”

In October 2017, the AUF signed an agreement with the IUACJ and the AUDEF, the country’s two leading coaching associations. The six grant holders are studying for the C licence (youth football: 6 to 13-year-olds) and B licence (amateur football). The president of the AUDEF is Ariel Longo, who will be coaching the host nation’s team at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018.

“It’s an innovative programme that’s producing results for us,” said Lanfranco. “Women’s football is really growing in Uruguay.”

The development of women’s football in Uruguay

  • The national women’s league was founded in 1996 as a five-a-side competition

  • It switched to the 11-a-side format in 1997, with seven teams competing

  • Became a two-division competition in 2016: Divisional A (seven clubs) and Divisional B (eight clubs)

  • A record number of teams are participating in 2018: ten in each division

  • U-16 and U-19 tournaments have also been set up

“Three years ago, 80 per cent of women’s football clubs didn’t have professionals working for them,” said Valentina Prego, the chair of the Women’s Football Council, when putting the FIFA Forward-funded initiative into perspective. “The majority of them now do, but not all of them. Investment will start to pay off in the medium term, with new professionals coming into the game, who wouldn’t otherwise have had the means to pay for their studies. We’ve shown in Uruguay that we can have a football structure, even when the sports infrastructures aren’t the best, which makes human resources vital.”

Benefits and other objectives Aside from providing financial support, the initiative is having other benefits, as Prego explained: “As a domino effect, there are people who are doing courses without having received a grant, but with the support of their clubs or by paying for them themselves. That’s the effect we were looking for, that everyone pushes together to improve things.”

Part of the funding will be used in 2018 to implement a ground-breaking national training programme for women. In 2017, only six of the 21 coaches working in senior and junior football in Uruguay were women.

“We think we need to promote the presence of women in different areas of the game and that’s why we have to give them opportunities,” said Prego, who added that the course was still in the coordination phase. “It’s the first course that’s exclusively for women and it’s one that aims to be as accessible as possible for prospective coaches from right across the country.”

FIFA approval Giving his view on the AUF’s endeavours,  FIFA’s Regional Director for the Americas, Jair Bertoni, said: “The development of women’s football is a priority for FIFA. Many national associations are looking to increase interest in the women’s game and push participation numbers up, which is why projects such as this are so important. And in that respect, FIFA’s Forward programme is a key tool as it allows, among other things, us to train coaches and drive development in an effective way, with quality as a watchword. That’s going to help the sport to keep on growing and it responds to current needs as well.

“It’s pleasing to see the AUF’s commitment in this area because we need the associations to be on board, if we’re going to achieve this objective,” Bertoni continued. “That’s why we’re delighted to support the AUF with this project through the FIFA Forward programme, so that we can make women’s football more accessible and so that people can bring their know-how and passion to the sport.”

He added: “There’s no doubt that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which Uruguay will be hosting this year, is a major incentive for both the country and the wider region as a whole, to continue investing in the sport and encouraging more players and coaches to fulfil their dreams.”