“Women’s football and women in football is a priority – it’s part of the solution for the future of football,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino, speaking on International Women’s Day last year.
While calling for ambitious objectives, Infantino also announced reforms at FIFA. These have since become a reality, among them the requirement that there be at least one female representative per confederation to be elected to the new FIFA Council, which in practice means that there are a minimum of six women sitting on this decision-making body. At the same time as these changes were being made, Fatma Samoura was appointed FIFA Secretary General, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
These significant steps were the first towards a new type of administrative model in world football, one that strives to bring about gender equality in the game, a much sought-after goal. And yet more ambitious objectives have been set since then, with the FIFA 2.0 roadmap seeking to double the number of female football players worldwide to more than 60 million by 2026.
And like any great race, it all began with small but purposeful steps, such as the hosting of Spanish women’s first division matches at the country’s Liga stadiums, and the staging of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, a tournament where women accounted for 75 per cent of the Local Organising Committee. Among them was Samar Nassar, the LOC’s executive director, who listed its achievements: “It was essential for us that we built our infrastructures, the stadiums and 14 training grounds in order to meet FIFA requirements. We’ve also managed to train a lot of people to a high level. The steps we have taken will undoubtedly help Jordanian football to develop and will also bring benefits to the wider community.”
One unifying vision
Women in football are fighting a war on many fronts, in countries where they face countless social and cultural challenges. Whereas in some parts of the world girls are battling for the right just to play the game on the same footing as boys, in others the struggle involves giving women the opportunity to take up management and executive positions.
The key to sustained success is to make steady progress, step by step. One such example is the appointment of Emily Lima as the first ever female coach of the Brazilian national women’s team. A further cause for celebration came with the staging of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea last year, an event that showed just how well women can play the game and also provided a platform for promoting the #ENDViolence campaign, which supports the global fight against gender-based violence, one of the most devastating problems faced by society.
“We have seen many campaigns off the field of play, and I hope they encourage women of all ages to break down barriers and bring an end to violence,” said FIFA Council member Sonia Bien Aime after Papua New Guinea 2016 had come to an end. “I sincerely hope this tournament leaves a legacy and that every young girl who wants to play football can do so.”
Progress is being made elsewhere in the world. In Colombia, for example, we have witnessed the inception of the country’s professional women’s football league, while Chan Yuen has become the first woman ever to coach a men’s team in the AFC Champions League.
Such progress is both valuable and significant and has helped make equality that little bit more of a reality than it was a year ago. And the message, as Samoura herself said, is clear: “Humanity is made up of men and women. No society can survive by alienating 50 per cent of its population.”