- Sarai Bareman took part in a Q&A with FIFA Fan Movement members in India
- FIFA’s Chief Women's Football Officer was in Mumbai for #U17WWC emblem launch
- India 2021, the FIFA Women’s World Cup and fans among the topics covered
Ever since its inception, the FIFA Fan Movement has come together under the banner of #WeLiveFootball. For its members, this is more than a mere hashtag. And in that respect, Sarai Bareman is very much a kindred spirit.
FIFA’s Chief Women's Football Officer’s love for the game was again underlined in her meeting with Indian Fan Movement members when she hobbled in to greet them, supported by a crutch. As Bareman explained to the group, which had assembled in Mumbai for the launch of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup India 2021’s official emblem, this was an injury she had sustained, predictably, while playing football.
“I think the passion I have for the game is very clear,” Bareman said with a wry smile. “Sadly it’s no longer matched by my body’s ability to play!”
The New Zealander was on hand to answer the Fan Movement members’ questions, and a lively, wide-ranging Q&A ensued. The U-17 women’s showpiece in 2021 naturally figured prominently, but there were also questions on the general state of women’s football and what fans themselves can do to assist its progress.
FIFA Fan Movement: What are your expectations for the U-17 Women’s World Cup?
Sarai Bareman: I have high expectations as just a couple of years ago, this country hosted the biggest youth World Cup in FIFA’s history. We’ve never had more fans and more focus on a youth-level competition than we had here in India for the U-17 men. So the bar has been set very high. I do understand, of course, that women’s and men’s football are in a different position. If you look back through history, the first Women’s World Cup took place 61 years after the first men’s World Cup, and there’s a gap of almost 100 years between the first men’s and women’s Olympic Football Tournaments. So that gives you an understanding of the historical gap that we need to close. But in terms of the teams and the football you’ll see, I was in Uruguay for the last edition of the U-17 Women’s World Cup, and the level was high. People who went along to that, having never been to a women’s game before, were really surprised at the skill on show.
What was your biggest takeaway from the senior Women’s World Cup, and what’s your projection for the next edition?
I think, for me, the biggest takeaway was seeing the rest of the world finally wake up and understand how great women’s football is. The big difference from Canada in 2015 to France was the numbers: we had more than 1.12 billion watching around the world, and in many countries viewing records were broken. It was a ‘wow’ moment, with people finally understanding what we knew all along about women’s football – it’s amazing! What’s important now is that we build on that. We need to see more and more people watching, and bigger attendances in stadiums. The more popular the game is, the more participation we get, the more fans we have and the more revenue we can generate. That’s how we’ll commercialise and grow our sport. It’s a huge cycle, and it goes on from there. The more money we can generate through women’s football, the more resources we can spread around the world to allow more young girls to take up and enjoy the game.
The U-17 Women’s World Cup is positioned as the tournament where stars are born. But what do you think it takes to become a star in football?
To make it ahead of all the other people who have the same dream, you have to train harder and dedicate yourself more, not only in team training but when you’re on your own. All your motivation has to be directed towards making it and going beyond what everybody else does. I think that’s what you’ll see from the girls who come here representing their countries next year. Some of those players will have come through great hardship, and that’s the great thing about women’s football – everyone has a story. Because it’s not easy. Football has been a very male-dominated sport and, in many societies, it’s still frowned upon for women and girls to play the game. So when you see it all come together next year, understand that all of these girls have been on a journey to get to this level.
In India, we’ve already seen players from the 2017 U-17 World Cup move into the men’s national team. Do you think next year’s tournament can be a game-changer in terms of bringing real talent through to the senior women’s side?
Yes. One hundred per cent. Next year, we will see the future stars of senior national teams - I’m completely convinced of that. We do a lot of data analysis and we’ve followed and studied player pathways, looking at how many players make the next steps from U-17s to U-20s and then on to senior level. What we’ve found is that it’s a far higher percentage of girls who make those leaps than you see in men’s football. There are many reasons for that but it underlines how important this tournament is, and how many of the players from next year’s competition that you’ll be seeing at senior World Cups in years to come. That’s why we’re going to invest so much in this tournament, and it’s why we’d also like to expand it in the future so that more nations can participate.
What can fans do to improve and grow the women’s game?
The fans are so important, and I really love the Fan Movement – it’s by far one of my favourite projects in FIFA. It brings us closer to the supporters and helps us understand directly from you guys what drives you and what you’re passionate about. I love it - even my Twitter profile picture is a #WeLiveFootball image! As for what you can do to help, it starts at the smallest level, in your immediate surroundings, in the way you talk about and project women’s football when you speak to your family and friends. That’s the first step – letting other people around you know how amazing women’s football is. Also, we now live in a digital world – it’s at the heart of this movement – and people are interested to read and hear what you have to say. You have a powerful tool at your disposal and you can use that in a very positive way to influence people. So use that, and use your creativity. Over the next 12 months, you can spread the word about this tournament and make a difference by building the hype and passion, and letting people understand what a great opportunity they have in their own country.