Women's futsal: Just the beginning
Thursday, 16 March 2023
With a first World Cup on the horizon and the EURO going from strength to strength, the future is bright for women’s futsal.
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It’s an exciting time for women’s futsal. The UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO has been a catalyst for growth in the sport, which is about to go global with FIFA’s announcement in December of the launch of the Women’s Futsal World Cup. The first edition will take place in 2024, providing another high-profile platform for the sport’s top players to showcase their talents, while giving added incentive for more nations to create teams.
The number of European sides has already grown from seven to over two dozen in the five years since the Women’s Futsal EURO began, and seeing the sport played at such a high level provides a goal for aspiring players to aim for.
For those already at the top of the game, nothing is taken for granted. Having campaigned so hard to have this stage to play on, every moment is cherished. "It’s a dream," Spain captain Peque said. "We had been fighting for many years to play in competitive matches and each one we play is very important for us."
Peque has been part of the Spain squad since 2010, and a top division league player for years before that. She is one of many leading female futsal stars starved of the chance to compete for a top international honour before the Women’s Futsal EURO was launched with qualifiers in 2018 leading to the first final tournament early in 2019.
Ana Azevedo is another experienced performer who has seen first-hand just how the competition has given the sport an impetus missing for much of her long career. Capped more than 100 times by Portugal and Player of the Tournament at Women’s Futsal EURO 2022, she knows just how influential it is. "Every UEFA Women’s EURO brings with it a change in attitude among the supporters, the media and the sponsors," she said. "For sure it will increase the female participation numbers in our country. Hopefully, more clubs will want to have female futsal teams."
The incentive that a major international tournament gives to players and organisers is underlined by Italy coach Francesca Salvatore, whose team only narrowly missed out on a place in the final to tournament to Spain last year and Portugal this time round. "Without a doubt, and I can speak from personal experience, the establishment of Futsal EURO has contributed to changing the dynamics both in the mind of the players, but also within the federation to which they belong," she said. "Futsal EURO has become a goal through which the development of women’s futsal passes."
Salvatore has also acted as a UEFA technical observer at final tournaments. She added: "Besides my personal experience with the Italian national team, I have seen other nations that have increased their competitiveness. An example is Finland, a team that I have watched grow a lot, as well as Sweden."
A World Cup would encourage that even more. "There is a lot of talk about equality between men’s and women’s sports and this was a first step towards reducing the differences between one and the other, so this news has sparked a lot of emotion in those who have been playing this sport for many years," Salvatore said. "However, I’m convinced that we mustn’t just ‘wait’ for this chance, but work hard to be ready and up to standard for the event."
"Making the various national teams competitive is the task of the individual players but also, and above all, of all those inside the game. There is a need for teamwork involving teams, coaches, federations and international bodies. It’s only a starting point, not an arrival point."
Investing in the future
Increasingly, European federations are upping their game. Each season, UEFA redistributes revenue generated by the men’s football EURO to its 55 member associations to invest in development projects. Many have chosen to channel this support into women’s futsal.
Iuliia Forsiuk of Ukraine, one of three nations to have qualified for all three Women’s Futsal EUROs so far, believes expanding the final tournament beyond four teams would also benefit the sport as a whole. "This tournament is very important for promotion of women’s futsal," she said. "We have a lot of good teams which deserve to have a chance to compete in this tournament. I’m sure it would give a fresh boost to the development of futsal in the countries that qualify.
Peque, meanwhile, is sure that Women’s Futsal EURO has been, and needs to continue to be transformative for the sport. "For us, the EURO is the most important tournament," she said. "Domestically, the Spanish league is growing, but international competitions are what really help. If futsal does not grow internationally, we will not be taken seriously as a sport."
With the EURO now an established feature of the women’s futsal calendar and a first World Cup on the horizon – the sport is being taken very seriously indeed.