2012 will be a keynote year for women's football – with UEFA and its 53 member national associations working together to take the female game forward under an ambitious programme that seeks to raise the profile and quality of the sport throughout Europe.
The UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP) is gathering pace thanks to a far-sighted decision by the UEFA Executive Committee in December 2010. At its meeting in Prague, the Executive Committee set the course for the future of European women's football; it took note of the huge growth in the game, in terms of both registered players and participation, and agreed to support the WFDP via the HatTrick assistance programme, starting from this year.
Since then, UEFA and its national associations – with the invaluable assistance of top clubs who have gathered experience in European and domestic women's competitions – have embarked on a path forward that is aimed not only at developing women's football infrastructures across the continent, but also at attracting more women to become involved in the sport, as players, coaches, referees, officials or even just enthusiastic spectators.
Last February, a Women's Football Development workshop, held under the auspices of the UEFA Knowledge & Information Sharing Scenario (KISS), was attended by more than 50 UEFA member associations and addressed a broad palette of issues relating to the game. It was the first-ever UEFA gathering on women's football development.
Following on from that historic event, a women's football week took place at UEFA in November. In addition to the draws for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the UEFA Women's Champions League and UEFA European Women's Under-17 and U19 Championship qualifying tournaments, representatives from leading UEFA member associations in women's football joined UEFA for a KISS workshop on how to move the domestic game forward. The meeting also gave clubs participating in the latter stages of this season's UEFA Women's Champions League the opportunity to contribute to the discussions.
Moreover, UEFA gave conclusive proof in 2011 of its commitment to including women in its decision-making process. Norway's Karen Espelund, a vastly experienced football administrator and chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee, has been made a member by invitation of the Executive Committee. In September, Espelund presented a comprehensive overview of UEFA's current women's football vision to a meeting of member associations in Cyprus.
Promoting the female game needs high-profile campaigners, and in October UEFA announced Steffi Jones, the German women's football great, as ambassador for the WFDP. In this newly created role, Jones is working closely with UEFA to further nurture women's football on this continent, attending events and spreading the important messages.
The national associations too are making a full contribution to the overall drive to take the sport into a new dimension. As part of a fruitful exchange across Europe, the associations are working together for the benefit of the women's game. Those FAs with well-established women's football structures have given presentations at UEFA events – highlighting their visions, targets and concepts as an example from which other associations may glean whatever they can for their own progress.
Women's football is also a key component of the UEFA Study Group Scheme, under which the 53 associations swap invaluable technical information through a series of seminars in which one FA hosts a group of its counterparts.
The associations are coming up with fertile ideas to boost their own women's football development, and UEFA, through the WFDP, has received over 40 applications for projects which would be given funding by the European body – these range from grassroots tournaments in Georgia and Croatia to goalkeeper recruitment and coaching courses in England and Norway. Girls in the Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, have had fresh incentive to play after the formation of the first-ever national women's league with UEFA's backing.
With the growing profile of the major female tournaments such as the FIFA Women's World Cup – a resounding success in Germany in 2011 – and the UEFA European Women's Championship – eagerly awaited in Sweden in 2013, and featuring a 16-team final round from 2017 – soccer enthusiasts, especially women and girls, are getting the message that women's football is on the move. UEFA and its associations are determined to keep that impetus in motion in what is an exciting period ahead.
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