The outlook for women’s football
On International Women's Day, we reflect on a time of huge promise for women’s football, both at the elite and grassroots level, and look ahead at some opportunities and challenges.
Women’s football continues to increase in prominence, with more women playing the game at grassroots level and growing recognition for elite tournaments and players.
We have already witnessed the fourth SheBelieves Cup and the sixth West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Championship. The winning goal of the WAFF tournament was scored by Stephanie Al Naber, who also serves as a board member of her national Football Association in Jordan, supporting initiatives to prepare young women for high-level competitions.
Like Stephanie, we know that the elite women’s game is only made possible by an underlying grassroots infrastructure that engages girls with the joy of football from an early age, and provides opportunities for player development, both in terms of skills and character.
That’s why we will be joining FA Presidents and leaders of the women’s game at the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in France later this year. We are always pro-active in trying to scale up programmes and initiatives that are proven to be effective. We can demonstrate from first-hand experience how football is a powerful tool for raising the aspirations and life chances of young women. And the evidence clearly shows that the health of the grassroots system impacts on the game at the very highest levels – The Mighty Girls project in Cambodia, that we started to support in 2013 in partnership with the SALT academy, is one of many examples of this effect. Over the last six years, the Mighty Girls project has successfully produced core members of the Cambodian national side!
However, we can’t shy away from the real challenges that exist in women’s football. We want to create systems that enable girls to fulfil their potential and for some, that will mean progression to playing elite football. For those exceptional players that will move into playing at the highest levels, we need stronger assurances that they are entering a world which values and defends their fundamental rights.
We are privileged to work together with a network of leaders in women’s football, who are bringing about real change in the women’s game internationally, including Rebecca Smith and Kelly Lindsey:
Rebecca Smith, Global Director of the Women’s Game at Copa90; 2x Olympian and former NZ international captain
“Grassroots football is where there is the greatest disparity in the men’s and women’s games which leads to so many other issues that the women’s game suffers from. With equal opportunity and investment into the grassroots game, there is the most possibility for parity to ensure that football really truly does become the world’s beautiful game.
I fell in love with football at a grassroots level, not only for the sport itself but mostly because of the values it taught me like teamwork, communication, a feeling of belonging and acceptance, and being exposed to a variety of characters, cultures, and beliefs, which I never would have experienced elsewhere. Football is such a powerful tool for social and cultural acceptance and the best chance to influence youth which is the future of our world”
Kelly Lindsey, Afghanistan Women’s National Team Coach; CONIFA’s first Women’s Football Director; Former USA international
“My vision for the women’s game is that is it valued and developed equally with the men’s game and given the resources required to cultivate its growth. When we unite together, we can establish the culture from grassroots through to professional level for the women’s game to thrive.
Young girls play football for different reasons than boys. If we educate clubs, academies, and federations on these differences and teach them how to develop the environment that little girls love to play in, they can develop the mental, social, and physical skills to become their best self. In this environment more girls will play, more women will grow, and the professional game will explode.”
Working in co-ordination with Rebecca, Kelly and many other key individuals at the forefront of the women’s game, we hope to make 2019 a pivotal year for the women’s football, developing systems of governance that are founded on integrity and fairness. We are privileged to be able to count on so many friends and allies who share our determination to make that vision a reality.
This blog is also published on Medium here