Bareman: FIFA Benchmarking Report will help us grow the women's game

  • FIFA published landmark report on elite women’s professional football

  • Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman on its importance for the future of the women’s game

  • rounds up the major talking points from the publication

Last week, as part of its overall vision to globalise football and accelerate the growth of women’s football, FIFA published a landmark report on the development and professionalisation of elite women’s football landscape around the world.

The FIFA Benchmarking Report: Women’s Football, developed over a nine-month period, provides important insights into several key areas of the elite women’s football landscape including sporting, finance, fan engagement, player related matters and COVID-19.

Speaking to, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer, Sarai Bareman, talks about the new report and recaps some of key findings and next steps following its publication.

This is the first time ever FIFA, or any other organisation, has conducted an in-depth survey with leagues and clubs about the professional women’s football landscape. Will we see these reports published more regularly in the years to come?

Sarai Bareman: As we have seen, the women’s football landscape is evolving very quickly. We regularly see anecdotal examples and indicators in many different areas and countries demonstrating the growth of women’s football but, for the first time, this report now provides concrete facts and data about the current realities and opportunities that exist to professionalise and grow women’s game in a sustainable way.

This report is an important starting point and first step however, it is important for us to now build on this and use the data that leagues and clubs have provided to work with all stakeholders across football to develop the women’s game further.

In line with FIFA’s Vision and objectives to accelerate and professionalise the women’s game, it's our ambition to publish this kind of report on a regular basis. I believe an annual report would be optimal, especially to capture the changes that take place season-to-season, to not only help us here at FIFA to achieve our own objectives, but also to inform stakeholders and support them in their decision making.

What role does FIFA play in terms of professionalising women’s football and encouraging leagues and clubs to develop at a local level?

Good question – FIFA is investing a lot of time and resources into the development of women’s football on and off the pitch, as well as working closely with member associations and other stakeholders. Away from the playing fields of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and our youth World Cups, there is a huge amount or work taking place to grow the entire ecosystem of women’s football. It's a big part of what we do in the Women's Football Division.

We understand that in order to grow participation, retain players and build expertise in the women’s game, we have to have not only strong competition structures, but also targeted capacity building programmes and long-term pathways in place for players, administrators, coaches and everyone involved.

That means, developing strong and sustainable leagues where players are in a competitive professional environment and can participate on a regular, long-term basis. It means pushing and supporting clubs to raise standards and strengthening the pathways for female players by using tools such as club licensing and the regulatory framework. It means putting in place the best governance structures and commercial programmes at every level to ensure maximum performance, both in terms of sustainability and from a sporting perspective. This is an important part of our focus when it comes to overall development of women’s football and of course it's important that we also have a top-down approach.

FIFA has its own competitions, like the FIFA Women's World Cup and FIFA Women’s U-17 and U-20 World Cups. They are really top-down drivers of the development by acting as the catalyst for active national teams and the qualifying pathways that they create.Then from the bottom-up, we can support our member associations, and their leagues and clubs, through programmes like the FIFA Women’s Development Programme, which support that growth and professionalization at the national and domestic levels.

What was one of the biggest takeaways from the report from your perspective? What is a key area that you and your team have identified as the biggest area for growth?

There are important insights in every section, but in terms of areas for growth, one of the key areas and insights from the survey was on the commercial opportunities and the business case that women's football has.

In particular, what stood out for me is the survey findings and opportunities that exist around the broadcasting and marketing of women's football. From the data, we saw that, when especially compared to the men's game, there's a relatively small amount of revenue being generated on average by leagues and clubs related to broadcast of matches, as well as the average investment by leagues and clubs into marketing.

That underlines the huge growth opportunity in terms of revenue generation for the women's game, broadcasting matches and having more women’s games, and obviously therefore more players, showcased on TV and across the various digital platforms that are available.

As has been highlighted around the publication, there still seems to be a lot of clubs without additional support staff, for example a physio or a team doctor. How can this be improved and what can be done to encourage teams to develop and professionalise its setup around players?

This is a very important topic being raised - one of the insights from the survey findings we've discussed at length already is that of the specialist roles within clubs that really seem to make the difference in terms of the sporting performance.

There's a base level of support staff that needs to be around a team, such as the head coach, assistant coaches etc. However, where we saw the staffing and human resourcing making a difference in terms of sporting performance, it really came down to specialist positions, such as nutritionists and psychologists, and in women’s football – also physiotherapists.

When we're talking about elite level football it's important to have high quality resources around the players, especially when it comes to player welfare, well-being and certainly from a medical perspective. We have seen these specialist positions become the norm in the men’s game – it’s an expectation for male players at the elite level that these support systems available to them. In my view – it should be no different in women’s football. We want our players to be given the best possible chance to perform well on the pitch, and in order for that to happen we have to give them the best possible conditions to succeed.

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