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Popularity of women's football continues to rise

International Women's Day has taken place, and UEFA's report on women's football across its member associations reflects on how the game is growing.

Popularity of women's football continues to rise
Popularity of women's football continues to rise ©UEFA.com

International Women's Day has taken place, and we can reflect on the growing popularity of women's football in Europe with UEFA's support. The European elite level is also reflecting the encouraging progress made, in particular as a result of the intensive development work being undertaken with national associations.

The UEFA report Women's Football across the National Associations 2014–15 is compiled annually from data and information submitted by UEFA's 54 member associations. The first part deals with the overall growth of the women's game in Europe, while the second contains factsheets on each of the European national associations.

"For the first time, eight European teams will participate in the final round of the FIFA Women's World Cup, which is a positive sign reflecting the development of women's football in Europe," says the report. "With the increased resources that many national associations are putting into the development of women's football, it is little surprise that the level of elite women's football has improved. However, elite women's football would struggle to exist and grow without a strong base.

"Development programmes aimed at the grassroots, increased opportunities for female coaches, and promotion and communication strategies for women's football are all achieving positive results."

There has been a 4% increase in the number of registered female players, with the total rising by 46,244 to 1,208,558. In fact, the number of female players has grown five times since 1985. More and more young girls are playing football, with the number of registered players under 18 now standing at over 750,000. The major challenge for associations, the report says, is not only to promote women's football, but to keep youngsters playing in the long term.

The number of adult players – over the age of 18 – is also climbing, with 30 associations (up from 28 in 2013/14) having more than 1,000 registered players. Seven countries – Denmark, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – have more than 60,000 female players. Meanwhile, 51 countries have a women's national league, and 53 associations have a national team.

The drive to recruit women referees and coaches moves on apace. The report shows 7,461 qualified female referees, and the number of associations with development programmes targeting female referees has jumped from 26 to 31. Given that the coaching of women's football is still greatly dominated by men, one challenge which UEFA has taken up is to encourage the qualification – or further qualification – of female coaches.

The report says there are 21,164 female coaches in Europe who hold at least a national C licence. Nearly 10,000 women have a national C licence, and the hope is expressed that, consequently, more women are likely to obtain higher coaching qualifications in the future.

Areas where UEFA and the associations have been particularly hard at work are in communications, marketing and strategy – all crucial in advancing and nurturing the women's game and increasing public interest. The report notes that 49 of the associations have a strategy that includes women's football, while there is a rise in the number of associations deploying a specific marketing strategy, most of which focus on the promotion of international matches and girls' participation in grassroots football.

Over the past year, the national associations have employed another 100 people dedicated to women's football. A total of 1,963 women work for the associations, an increase of more than 300 since last season, and now represents 30% of the total workforce within all UEFA member associations. Of these women, 366 work at managerial level or above, and UEFA will continue to monitor this situation with close interest as the European body's ambitious Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP) aims to bring more women into senior roles.

Women's Football Across the National Associations 2014-15 reflects the forward steps being taken by women's football in Europe, and envisages a positive future. The report concludes: "The increases seen in the number of registered female players, the number of national associations organising a national women's league, the number of football academies dedicated to girls and the number of associations adopting a strategy for women's football are all further signs of the steady progress that is being made."

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