Girls' football is flourishing in Azerbaijan thanks to two outstanding UEFA-backed projects: specially 3v3 mini-tournaments and a new women's Under-13 league.
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With support from UEFA's HatTrick programme, the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) has launched two outstanding projects to bring girls into football: specially adapted mini-tournaments and a new women's Under-13 league.
3v3 Girls Tournament
AFFA reckoned shorter matches and smaller pitches would increase participation, and staged a three-a-side girls' grassroots tournament in 2013 and two more in 2014, registering nearly 400 new players and engaging over 2,000 participants.
"Although not all participants go on to play football professionally, they become an intrinsic part of the football family," explained AFFA general secretary Elkhan Mammadov.
The teams played on a full-size pitch split into nine mini-pitches to ensure that as many children as possible could play, with matches lasting ten or 12 minutes, depending on the stage of the competition.
Promotion for the events began two months in advance – via the AFFA website, social media and school campaigns – and to make new participants feel welcome, each three-a-side team included at least one non-registered player.
The grassroots tournament was rewarded with a UEFA Creativity and Innovation award in the KISS Marketing Awards' Best Grassroots Marketing Campaign category in 2014.
Women's Under-13 League
In 2013, a WU13 league was introduced in four regions, featuring 46 teams, and over 1,000 players – of which 35% were newly-registered. "This league is not only an opportunity for girls to lead a healthy lifestyle, but also to follow their footballing dream," Mammadov said.
The creation of the league also helped develop the coaching base, as it involves over 60 coaches. Fifteen female coaches gained their UEFA B licence in 2015, and started working with the WU13 girls' league the following season.
The coaches and partnerships with schools played an important role in keeping in contact with parents and promoting the league, while an official website and social media pages helped spread the word.
With participation increasing and new talents being discovered, girls' football in Azerbaijan is now flourishing.