On the right track
The fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup is due to be staged in China in September this year. As the Middle Kingdom was also the backdrop to the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, it seems timely to draw a few comparisons between then and now. The conclusions are convincing and positive. Over the past fifteen years on an unprecedented boom, both in terms of quantity and quality.
From the point of view of quantity, 45 associations enrolled their women’s national team for the qualifying rounds of the 1991 event, whereas by 2007 the number had snowballed to 119. In the opening year of the Women’s World Cup, FIFA recorded 99 “A” internationals; by 2006, the figure had leapt to 450. In the qualifying rounds of the 2007 Women’s World Cup, the average number of goals scored had dropped to an all-time low of 3.9 goals – convincing proof that the balance of power has leveled out. According to the last Big Count survey, some 26 million girls and women are now playing football in over 180 countries.
But the transformation in attitudes is a much more telling factor. Women’s football has finally carved a niche for itself in the international football scene, with social barriers having crumbled, reservations and – above all – prejudices having been crushed and financial partners beginning to discover the true value of women’s football. Girls and women are playing their favourite sport as if it was the most natural thing in the world and they now receive more and more professional advice from coaches and other qualified officials.
So what does the future hold? Apart from the purely sporting aspects and the expansion of the final competition from 16 to 24 teams, just as much attention must be given to basic conditions such as the international match calendar, sports medical research and care, improved communications and more effective marketing. After all, women’s football is not merely an attachment to the men’s game. FIFA has paved the way for a secure future by creating a wide range of options for sponsors. At the very top there are six global partners covering all of FIFA’s activities whereas, for the women’s tournaments, six additional partners with a specific interest in the sport as well as four to six local suppliers may become involved in the events. This and other issues and options, including best practices, will be debated at the international Women’s Football Symposium in Shanghai towards the end of the tournament, and a master plan will be agreed upon.
Yet another enduring effect has been perceived. The fact that five bidders are vying to host the next Women’s World Cup in 2011 speaks volumes for the interest and enthusiasm generated by the competition. FIFA, the confederations and the associations are, above all, duty bound. It is FIFA’s duty to create the necessary structural and sporting conditions by applying a farsighted development strategy and managing World Cups effectively at every level. The confederations and associations, for their part, have an equally important role to play by implementing these initiatives at continental or national level and anchoring them firmly in their calendars. The best publicity of all could come from the players themselves in China where they will once again be given the opportunity to demonstrate the inventive and polished technique evident in their dynamic game of football. And then the future of football will continue to be feminine.