Strengthening structures at club level and tending the grassroots are crucial components in the further development of women's football, a UEFA workshop in Nyon has been told.
UEFA's Knowledge & Information Sharing Scenario (KISS) organised its latest workshop on the evolution of the women's game on 21 and 22 February, with the event being attended by representatives of national associations, clubs and world football governing body FIFA.
The objective of the workshop was to determine ways to improve quality within clubs in terms of governance, funding, commercial aspects and infrastructure.
Delegates heard how Europe's national associations can benefit from the UEFA HatTrick scheme which offers assistance to FAs across the continent – the women's game is being giving fresh impetus through the UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP), launched last year and which, from this summer, involves long-term funding via the HatTrick programme.
UEFA Women's Football Committee chairwoman Karen Espelund urged the associations to make use of UEFA's assistance to set up grassroots projects or player development paths, as well as to bolster club structures. "It is up to the associations to define what is required to help develop stronger clubs," she said. "The HatTrick programme is tailor-made to suit associations' needs. Many of the associations should have at least one grassroots project, because we need the foundations to grow."
Karen Espelund also explained that the women's development strategy drawn up by UEFA contained a number of set priorities, whereby UEFA will provide guidance, expertise, advice and resources. Key development directions are earmarked within the strategy, and associations are responsible for implementing their own progress paths in line with their local situations.
In particular, if girls and women are encouraged to become involved in football – as players, coaches, referees, administrators, volunteers or spectators – standards will rise and more effective overall structures can be envisaged not only within national associations but also within their clubs.
A number of presentations gave examples and pointers for future growth. The Republic of Ireland has recently kicked off a national women's league, and Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney defined the road which led to the launch – the help of UEFA, the support of stakeholders and sponsors, solid structures put in place, and the creation of a women's development plan in 2006, were some of the key details.
Since the unveiling of the plan, Mr Delaney said, registered numbers of players had climbed from 10,000 to 23,000, more than 12,000 girls had taken part in the Soccer Sisters Programme, and eight emerging talent schemes had been established. A player development path had produced excellent results: the women's national squad had improved its rankings, and the Under-17 team were UEFA European Championship runners-up and FIFA World Cup quarter-finalists in 2010.
Klara Bjartmertz from the Football Association of Iceland (KSÍ) presented that country's women's football strategy – a shining example, whereby a nation of 320,000 inhabitants has a top-level female national team. She said the club system was central to that success, with children trained from an early age and women players able to develop in as many as 100 sports clubs. This meant a continual reservoir of players for national-team duty, she said. In addition, the backing of the KSÍ was paramount in terms of good coach education, facilities, the competition system and helping nurture club infrastructures.
The Low Countries made their own contribution to the workshop. The head of women's football at Dutch club FC Twente, Mary Kok, offered an enlightening example of how intelligent and efficient work and planning enabled the club, which formed a women's team as late as 2007, to win the domestic championship only four years later. Bob van Oosterhout, Dutch sports marketing manager, presented the marketing strategy used to attract media, strategic and business partners to ideally position a league in Belgium and the Netherlands.
"We need strategies and visions, and to build the steps," Karen Espelund concluded. "I ask associations and clubs to use elements of UEFA's development plan in accordance with domestic and national situations. UEFA is there to help, through HatTrick, dedicated experts experienced in women's football, marketing experts, grassroots experts. The more precise you can be in what you need from UEFA, the more precise we can be in helping in return."
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