UEFA chief of women's football Nadine Kessler expressed her excitement for Women's EURO 2022 at a special preview event with media at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
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With the long-awaited start of the tournament almost upon us, Kessler shared her thoughts ahead of the big kick-off, as well as explaining its importance in the broader context of growing the women's game.
"I'm very excited, I feel pressure and so many different kinds of emotion, but I can't wait to get the ball rolling now," said Kessler, who has overseen huge developments in women's football since the previous Women's EURO in 2017 as part of UEFA's Time For Action strategy, launched in 2019.
"It's completely incomparable. We have come a long way, players are being treated like athletes and we have a sport turned into a proper profession," she explained. "There has been a huge shift in culture and mindset. Women's football is in a different sphere now.
"For UEFA, it has been very important to drive that change and investment in projects, such as the UEFA Women's Champions League reform, shows that now we are worlds apart."
Women's EURO 2022 promises to be the largest female sports event that Europe has ever seen, with ticket sales for the tournament having already broken records ahead of its kick-off on Wednesday, when hosts England meet Austria at Old Trafford.
"I'm a bit obsessed with the ticketing numbers -we're at 517,000 tickets now, a day before the opening, with people from 99 different countries buying tickets," Kessler said. "Who would have thought that for a women's tournament? That's simply fantastic and shows how high our expectation is."
A crucial legacy for now and the future
Despite the huge forward strides, there is no room for complacency and England 2022 represents a huge opportunity to build on momentum. This is a priority for UEFA and The Football Association (FA), who as hosts have developed an industry-leading legacy programme to attract more women and girls to the game.
The FA's director of women's football, Baroness Sue Campbell, outlined their desire to inspire the next generation to around 100 gathered media at Old Trafford.
"It's a real privilege and we're very proud to be hosting this tournament," she said. "As well as trying to break all the records in terms of making this such an iconic event, we fully recognise the women's game is growing all over Europe and this is a fantastic opportunity to drive it onto the next level.
"People often think legacy happens after something but I'm a great believer that it happens before and you have to prepare for it. The moment a youngster, or an oldster, is inspired, they want to be able to go and play so you have to do the groundwork to get that ready. We're grateful for all the support we've had from UEFA - it's been a terrific partnership."
"We need to make sure doors are open to girls all over Europe to make sure they can come and play the game."
Areas for investment
Kessler also responded to questions about the prize money for Women's EURO, which in 2022 is €16 million, double the figure in 2017.
"We understand that if you compare directly to the men's game, people are allowed to have the opinion that it's not enough," she said.
"The amount has doubled but people need to fairly judge the overall situation of this tournament. UEFA will run a loss for this tournament, an investment we are absolutely willing and wanting to make to further grow the game, and this tournament is five times bigger, financially, than we had in 2017.
"Prize money is important and we all understand the symbolic meaning of huge increases in prize money and I am really sure with the commercialisation of the women's game at the moment, that big jumps can be expected in the future, but it's not the only area we have to invest in – [there are] tournament standards, event promotion, conditions around the teams, but compared to 2017 we are worlds apart.
"You have to figure out how to place investment and where to best put it strategically. Prize money is one part of that big picture but it's not the only one."
Tackling online abuse
UEFA director of football and social responsibility Michele Uva also presented UEFA's new #RealScars campaign to the assembled media, sharing a powerful video featuring Jorginho, Wendie Renard and Alisha Lehmann.
"We have one of the biggest platforms in the world and we feel that we have responsibility in this field, and the passion to take care of this process," Uva said. "We can work together, including the media and the fans, and this is a match we can win if we play as a team.
"Women's EURO is an opportunity to kick off this process. We are planning over the next four years to monitor and report abuse in all of our competition finals – men's, women's and youth."
Uva was joined on stage by the FA's Inclusion Advisory Board chair Paul Elliott and former England international Karen Carney, who explained how it feels to receive online abuse and why UEFA's action and commitment to monitoring and reporting it is so important.
"Even now, I am anxious talking about it, it brings up scars. I never want anyone to go through it or feel like I felt after online abuse," she said.
"It's a difficult world we live in – we want to be happy, inclusive and supportive, embracing and championing one another – online abuse is a terrible thing people go through and it has to stop."