UEFA’s chief of women’s football and former European champion Nadine Kessler explains how the progress has been made so far, and what the future holds.
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The women’s game has gone from strength to strength in the last few years and with a summer focused on this UEFA Women’s EURO, the signs are that the sport will soon go to ever higher levels. UEFA’s chief of women’s football and former European champion Nadine Kessler explains how the progress has been made so far, and what the future holds.
The European Women’s Championship has come a long way since its first match 40 years ago to its current status as a huge, globally significant sporting event. What are the reasons behind this growth?
It is a huge year for women’s football. While there had been steady progress over many years with UEFA giving a platform to the national and club game, the growth has been exponential in recent times. This could not have happened without the rising interest among the national associations, clubs and other stakeholders and the work they have carried out. UEFA’s main role has been to provide support across the board and since 2019, this has been taken to a whole new level with the launch of UEFA’s women’s football strategy, Time for Action.
What, in tangible terms, has Time for Action delivered?
We are now in a place where 42 out of 55 European national associations have their own women’s football strategy – this is vital to measure and facilitate progress. At club level, the Women’s Champions League solidarity programme set up for all top-division sides has started to deliver on its goal of raising standards across the continent. At the same time, our commercial programme has been a runaway success! We have sold out our sponsorship packages with new partners coming on board and existing ones strengthening their ties with the game.
The change in format of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and centralising of broadcast rights immediately opened up the competition to whole new audiences. The impact of that competition has been astonishing to see with the incredible crowds and media coverage we had this season. Likewise, this Women’s EURO has attendance and TV audience records in its sights – it can never be said again that there is no interest in the game.
Women’s EURO is a huge moment for us – the biggest ever – but it also gives us the platform to kick on and really take the game to another level.
How can girls and women benefit from this development?
The strategy addresses women’s football from the grassroots up. We were determined to turn words into action and driving participation is the first priority – everything else stems from that. The UEFA Playmakers Programme with Disney has given girls aged 5–8 an early and innovative window into the sport – it has now been delivered in 45 countries and 82% of the participants had never previously played football before. What’s more, the Together #WePlayStrong campaign has created a community for football-playing teenagers with its social media posts gaining hundreds of millions of impressions.
What else is UEFA doing to help more women get involved in football?
We are on a journey and while we’re not at our destination yet, we have made great strides: significantly increasing female representation on UEFA bodies is a strategy goal we are already 75% towards achieving, while there’s been a 53% rise in associations with women’s football leaders and a 55% uplift in female graduates from the UEFA Academy, which runs academic football courses. On the pitch, over 300 scholarships for female coaches have been created and refereeing standards continue to increase, demonstrated by Stéphanie Frappart’s handling of a men’s UEFA Champions League game – with many more following in her footsteps.
What does the future hold?
These big strides the game is taking will continue to positively shift perceptions of women’s football, but we want to do more: continue to raise standards in our competitions, from youth level up, increase visibility worldwide and deliver top-class tournaments such as this one. Women’s EURO is a huge moment for us – the biggest ever – but it also gives us the platform to kick on and really take the game to another level.
This article appears in UEFA Direct 198