UEFA strategy for women's football on track to meet ambitious targets

As the 2019/20 UEFA Women's Champions League reaches its climax in San Sebastian, we report on the impressive first-year results of Time for Action – UEFA’s long-term strategy for developing women’s football in Europe.

The UEFA Women's Champions League final between Lyon and Wolfsburg on Sunday will not only complete one of the first female sports competitions to return to play since lockdown. It will also mark the conclusion of the first year of Time for Action – UEFA’s strategy to secure the long-term future of women’s football, launched at the 2019 final in Budapest.

Despite football’s temporary shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UEFA is already well on track to achieving the key objectives and indicators measuring real-time progress for each of its strategic priorities.

  • 300,000 more women and girls are playing football than at the launch.
  • Public perception of the women’s game across Europe is undergoing a sea change, with three-quarters of the general population describing women and girls that play football as ‘strong and confident’.
  • The number of women sitting on UEFA’s governing bodies has increased by more than 50% since 2019.

Such impressive figures, together with the enormous efforts required to ensure a successful conclusion to the women’s 2019/20 European season, demonstrate UEFA’s firm commitment to fulfilling its ambitious priorities for developing the women’s game at all levels.

“Our strategy is more important than ever to ensure that women’s football not only bounces back with vigour, but also thrives from grassroots to elite level”, said Nadine Kessler, UEFA’s chief of women’s football.

Priority 1: Driving participation

There are now 1.6 million registered female players
There are now 1.6 million registered female playersSource: UEFA National Associations GRASS survey 2019-20

Raising the number of girls and women playing football is one of the strategy’s key cornerstones. The headline strategic goal is to double the amount of female footballers by 2024. Factors such as the increased profile of elite women’s football have certainly contributed to encouraging initial results. However, UEFA also expects an innovative partnership announced in February 2020 to have a significant long-term impact at grassroots level.

Key achievement in 2019/20: PlayMakers

  • When it comes to capturing the imagination of youngsters, there is no bigger name than Disney. The UEFA-Disney PlayMakers partnership is a grassroots programme for girls aged 5-8, which uses Disney characters to inspire girls into regular physical exercise and playing football.
  • Thanks to this innovative approach, 120 trained coaches in seven countries are in place to deliver the programme, with a further 16 nations ready to follow suit.

Priority 2: Developing the game

While PlayMakers has opened a new path for young girls to discover the joy of playing football, UEFA has also boosted support for more traditional methods of football development.

The amount of funding available for national associations through UEFA’s Women’s Football Development Programme will jump from €22 million over four years to €33 million – a rise of 50%. These incentive payments have not only kickstarted new projects, but also encouraged 31 associations to develop their own long-term strategies for women’s football. In the past year, more than 900 association staff have received training on topics specifically related to the women’s game.

Key achievements in 2019/20: opening pathways for young coaches and players

  • UEFA’s Coaching Development Programme is playing a key role in raising the quality and quantity of female football coaches across Europe. In the past year, 238 women have won scholarships to study for UEFA coaching licences. Another nine up-and-coming coaches are following UEFA’s coach mentoring scheme.
  • UEFA has also adjusted its national team competition regulations to ensure all teams have a female head or assistant coach as of this coming season.

UEFA has also worked with the national associations for Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic at regional level to ensure talented under-14 female players have the opportunity to develop both their skills and football career.

Priority 3: Transforming competitions

Few moments better underline the rapid rise of women’s football than UEFA’s February 2020 announcement that two of the world’s most renowned stadiums, Wembley and Old Trafford, will host matches at the next Women’s EURO tournament in England.

In 2020, 77% of the general population think that girls and women that play football are ‘strong’
In 2020, 77% of the general population think that girls and women that play football are ‘strong’Source: Future Thinking 10 market gen pop research

UEFA has also approved the use of VAR throughout the finals, while a funded legacy programme will help ensure host EURO cities capitalise on the increased visibility and standing of the game, turning short-term enthusiasm for women’s football into enduring passion.

By systematically raising the status of all its women’s competitions, UEFA aims to shift public perception of women’s football across Europe. The planned introduction of new formats for youth competitions at under-17 and under-19 levels from 2021/22, for example, will ensure more competitive matches while allowing all teams the chance to qualify for final tournaments.

The approach is already paying off with 77% of the general population now believing that girls and women who play football are 'strong'.

The biggest transformation of any UEFA women’s competition will take place next year:

Second Spectrum implemented best-in-class player tracking at the 2019/20 finals
Second Spectrum implemented best-in-class player tracking at the 2019/20 finals

Key achievements in 2019/20: new format announced for UEFA Women’s Champions League

  • In 2019, UEFA unveiled a new format for the 2021/22 edition of its Women’s Champions League. This will centralise the competition and maximise its value. The big games will now be played at elite venues. Juventus Stadium and PSV Stadion, for example, will host the first two finals of this new cycle. A club licensing system for women’s teams has also been introduced for 2020/21.
  • In a sign of its efforts to constantly push the boundaries of the women’s game, UEFA has teamed up with tracking and analytics provider, Second Spectrum, for the 2019/20 Women’s Champions League finals in Spain. "Second Spectrum will help us in raising the bar when it comes to better understanding and improving the women’s game at the top level," explains Kessler, "Their technology and state of the art expertise will support us in further professionalising elite women's football, establishing high-level and advanced insights into on-pitch data."

Priority 4: Enhancing governance structures

There has been a 58% increase of women on UEFA bodies since 2019
There has been a 58% increase of women on UEFA bodies since 2019Source: UEFA

One year since the strategy’s launch, the number of women occupying key decision-making positions in European football is rising – but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

UEFA awarded three scholarships to women enrolling for its executive master for international players (MIP) course, while the women in football leadership programme was delivered in cooperation with FIFA.

Key achievements in 2019/20: female representation on UEFA governing bodies

  • Doubling female representation on all UEFA’s governing bodies is one of the top goals of Time for Action. Since it's launch, there's been a 58% increase in the number of women occupying high-level governance positions.

Priority 5: Increasing visibility and commercial value

The commercial development of UEFA’s women’s football competitions plays a critical role in facilitating on-pitch progress and off-field perception.

The value of Women’s EURO has increased four-fold since the last edition and has still more room to grow.
The value of Women’s EURO has increased four-fold since the last edition and has still more room to grow.Source: UEFA

Decoupling women’s football rights from the men’s game has been a game-changer with five dedicated partners now sponsoring UEFA female competitions: VISA, ESPRIT, PepsiCo, Hublot and Nike.

Huge progress has been made on media rights sales with the aforementioned centralising of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and record sales for Women’s EURO helping the strategy make huge strides toward its 2024 goal of doubling the value and reach of both competitions.

Key achievement in 2019/2020: WePlayStrong growth

  • The campaign, launched in 2017, doubled its audience in 2019/20 and its off-shoot element, ‘strong is’, has proved hugely successful reaching a global audience of more than one billion.