The next stage
The theme for the conference, which starts today and runs until Wednesday, is 'Women's Football in Europe – the next stage?,' and comes hot on the heels of an extremely successful UEFA European Women's Championship final tournament in England.
The conference, organised by UEFA, will examine the European body's role in developing women's football, look at the women's game in top European countries, analyse grassroots activities and debate competition structures. Experts will look back on the summer finals in England from both a technical and injury-related point of view, and women's programmes within UEFA's national associations will also come under the spotlight.
UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ in north-west England drew unprecedented crowds and broke television viewing records. A total of 117,384 spectators attended the 15 matches in Manchester, Blackpool, Warrington, Preston and Blackburn with the opening game – England's thrilling 3-2 victory against Finland at the City of Manchester stadium on Sunday 5 June – attracting 29,092 supporters, a record for a women's match in Europe. Over 21,100 people - a record for a final - were at Ewood Park to witness Germany defeat Norway 3-1 to claim their fourth successive crown.
Eurosport screened every fixture live, with the BBC showing England's three group games and the final. More than 3.5 million viewers tuned in for the hosts' loss to Sweden on 11 June, a 20 per cent share of the English television audience on a Saturday evening. "The fact we were successful in the homeland of football will also have positive effects in all other countries around Europe," said UEFA CEO Lars-Christer Olsson. "I'm sure we will move women's football on to another level."
Catching them young
Karen Espelund, the general secretary of the Norwegian Football Association and chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee, says that the female game will continue to develop rapidly as long as Europe's associations pay attention to getting players involved in the sport as young as possible. "Women's football has definitely come a long way," she said. "More girls play now, and have been playing since they were very young. The structures in the federations are better - girls play league games from the age of ten to 12. UEFA has also introduced a competition structure for national teams to help them prepare in every way."
UEFA has decided to give considerable emphasis to the women's game. The European body has moved its adult women's football operations into the professional football department, which will also receive support from UEFA's marketing sector to maximise commercial and sporting potential. In addition, UEFA also runs a successful European Women's Under-19 Championship for the stars of tomorrow.
Keeping up grassroots work
"UEFA can help by promoting the women's game within its grassroots work," Espelund continued. "And we know that in parts of Europe, there is still no emphasis on recruiting girls to play football. In countries like Sweden, women's and girls' activities have been running for some 30 years - girls have the same opportunities as boys to play at ten to 12 years of age. We need to keep up the work at grassroots level."
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