The inexorable rise of women's football has created a call for greater participation by women in the European football decision-making process. UEFA and its 54 national associations have taken careful note, with the result that an innovative new project – the UEFA Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP) – is planned for launch this year.
UEFA is responding to feedback from its member associations, in particular during discussions at a keynote women's football development workshop staged during last summer's UEFA Women's EURO 2013, under the auspices of the UEFA KISS knowledge-sharing scheme. Consequently, UEFA has put the wheels in motion to establish a specific leadership programme for women involved in the European national associations.
While it is true that football has been traditionally male-dominated, more women are now in leadership roles in the game. At the highest European level, Karen Espelund, a vastly-respected football administrator from Norway, is now a full member of the UEFA Executive Committee in addition to her position as chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee.
Nevertheless, figures still show that very few women occupy national association leadership posts. The aim of the WFLP would be to accelerate a development process within the associations.
"Equality and integration are both essential to the development of the football workforce," says Espelund. "Football has come a long way over the last few years, but there is still an evident lack of women in top-level positions. More needs to be done to change perspectives and increase opportunities.
"The UEFA women's leadership programme, launching later this year, has adopted an innovative approach by locating and developing potential female executives from the 54 member associations and helping them climb up the ladder of promotion."
The WFLP initiative will be aimed at women working in football – not necessarily women working specifically in the women's football sector.
The objectives of the programme are manifold. It will seek to identify individuals who have the potential to become leaders, with the scheme helping them develop the skills which will bring them closer to becoming a leader. In addition, women already in leadership positions will be offered extra support in their roles.
UEFA is looking at holding an inaugural week-long seminar which would nurture participants' leadership skills through lectures, practical exercises, role-playing exercises and presentations by, among others, inspirational women leaders from inside and outside football. Some of these would also be asked to take part in the process by being mentors, giving constant advice and exchanging experiences with participants along their development path.
The course will be created and implemented by UEFA in close cooperation with a partner academic institution or consultant recognised for its expertise in leadership programmes. UEFA is currently in consultation with potential partners, who would have distinct functions and duties as far as organising the programme is concerned.
UEFA will be making strong use of the experience gained in running knowledge-sharing workshops and personal development programmes for association staff, such as the Certificate in Football Management (CFM), the Diploma in Football Management (DFM) and the Executive Master in European Sport Governance (MESGO).
"UEFA, through its new women's leadership programme, is concentrating on increasing the number of women occupying executive positions in football," says UEFA national associations director Theodore Theodoridis. "This is an important long-term development programme, and will draw on the female expertise of the 54 UEFA member associations to ensure that leadership skills are recognised, nurtured and implemented across the European football family."
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