International Women's Day 2023: Continuous improvement key for women's football
Wednesday, 8 March 2023
Nadine Kessler, UEFA's managing director of women's football, reflects on the progress made and the challenges to come.
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Since the launch of UEFA's dedicated women's football strategy, Time For Action, in 2019, the game has made fantastic progress at all levels.
From the magic of last summer's UEFA Women's EURO 2022 and the record-breaking crowds seen in the UEFA Women's Champions League, to increases in the number of women and girls playing the game at grassroots level, there is plenty to celebrate. But the work is not done, with plenty more targets to hit as we grow the game across the continent.
UEFA managing director for women's football, Nadine Kessler, looks at recent successes and assesses where there are still steps to be made to hit the ambitious targets set out by Time For Action.
Nadine, UEFA has initiated a range of projects to drive progress. Which initiatives stand out as gamechangers?
"Firstly, the record-breaking EURO 2022. The standards put in place were on a completely new level. We really tried to raise the bar, and it's been fantastic to see its legacy in England and beyond. It was a great atmosphere no matter where you went, and over half the audience was female, important for our key goals.
"Secondly, the revamp of the Women's Champions League – not only the format change but other elements, such as better conditions for players and the first-ever maternity provisions. We've also given the competition added visibility by centralising rights, generating revenue streams with which we support clubs around Europe. The solidarity scheme we've established also sends a strong signal about our wider responsibility within the game.
"From a grassroots perspective, our Playmakers programme has been very successful. It's incredible to see how many girls have responded to a little bit of Disney magic."
How does UEFA's use of elite competitions to drive development at all levels demonstrate the strength of the European sports model?
"Our responsibility is to ensure everyone has access to football, regardless of background, gender or anything else. We've been trying to do that through all our projects – grassroots and competition structures. We need to ensure our investment and programmes support every level of the pyramid. Without a base, there's no top – and vice versa. We are very conscious of this, and it will be a key priority in years to come."
While UEFA is on track to achieve most of its strategic goals, disparities remain between European associations. How can we level the playing field?
"Probably the biggest challenge is helping everyone to move forward together. Our members are very different, despite their proximity, with varying levels of development and cultural barriers. My answer is dedicated support, especially for small- and medium-sized associations. Our new competition formats will help, but more specialised support is key – always with the mindset that we need to move forward together."
What lessons from the first half of Time for Action will guide how UEFA approaches the next strategy?
"The key lesson is that a strategic plan works because it created a long-term mindset. This is so important, especially for an emerging sport like ours – for planning, commitment and visibility. Women's football is growing, growing, growing. That's also a challenge, but we're very happy with how it's going, and we are already thinking about post-2024. It's our first women's strategy, but it will not be our last."