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Breaking barriers, building legacies: The impact of the UEFA Women's Under-17 EURO in Estonia

The UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship once again shows the vital role of youth tournaments in developing the women’s game and offering young players a clear pathway to the top.

Estonia vs Switzerland's match at the Under-17 EURO in Tallin, Estonia.
Estonia vs Switzerland's match at the Under-17 EURO in Tallin, Estonia. UEFA

Estonia hosted the UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship in May 2023, with a mission to inspire a new generation of girls to take up football and transform the women’s game in the country. The tournament is not just about the competition itself; it is a statement of intent to create a sustainable structure for the development of women’s football in Estonia and beyond.

The Estonian Football Association (EFA) and UEFA have worked closely together to build a strong, long-term legacy programme for after the tournament, bringing a focus on increased participation and qualified workforce to the forefront of the Estonian football scene. The objective is to challenge the perception of women's football in the country and promote it to a wider audience.

Anne Rei, Chair of the UEFA Women’s Football Committee and secretary general of the Estonian Football Association

“After the tournament, hopefully many girls will be motivated to take up the game. We are staging our first-ever UEFA women’s football final tournament and the hopes are high. Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the world now and it just makes sense to be a part of it and to enjoy it.”

About the tournament

Legacy programme: Turning challenges into opportunities

Last month, 37 coaches took part in the national D course led by two new female coach educators.
Last month, 37 coaches took part in the national D course led by two new female coach educators. Estonian Football Association

Estonia's sporting ecosystem is fiercely competitive, but team sports, especially women's football, have often been overshadowed. However, with the UEFA Women's Under-17 tournament, the country has seized a golden opportunity to shift perceptions and propel the women’s game to the forefront of its sporting landscape.

The tournament's legacy programme aims to increase participation with the establishment of new leagues and teams that will create more playing opportunities for women and girls.

The goal is to spark a 60% surge in participation by forming a new under-9 girls' league, with nine women's teams to be created within top-level clubs, further cementing the women’s game’s position in the country's sport scene. These new leagues and teams will be accompanied by an influx of 40 UEFA-licensed coaches, two female coach educators, and 40 PE and kindergarten teachers taking part in further education programmes, broadening the pyramid of women's football and increasing women's representation in football-related roles.

Anne Rei explains

“The legacy programme for the tournament has two objectives: growth in participation numbers and a more quality female workforce in the women’s game," " In participation, we are targeting a 60% raise in numbers at the under-10 age group. In coaching, we are targeting a 60% raise in licensed female coaches, including 40 new D Licence coaches, 20 C Licence coaches and two female coach educators.”

School tournament for girls aged 8-12 in Tallinn.
School tournament for girls aged 8-12 in Tallinn.Estonian Football Association

Schools play an important role in the tournament’s legacy initiative as they can address the significant challenge of incorporating girls' football into PE lessons. Teachers will receive customised education on its benefits and their pivotal role in promoting female participation to pique the interest of girls, who may then be inspired to sign up for a local club.

“In Estonia we still must focus on participation numbers, to encourage clubs to take up women’s football," Rei explains. "We are providing support with girls’ grassroots programmes, the UEFA Playmakers project and female coach education, but a shift in mentality doesn’t happen overnight.”

Anne Rei's full interview

Along with the tournament itself, a myriad of activities is organised to encourage youth and girls’ participation, including school visits and matchday festivals featuring mascots and souvenirs.

School visit in Viimsi school with football club Viimsi JK.
School visit in Viimsi school with football club Viimsi JK.Estonian Football Association

Kicking off a love for football with Disney magic

In addition to the efforts being made to elevate women's football participation in Estonia through the Women's Under-17 EURO, the UEFA Playmakers programme is playing a pivotal role in igniting a passion for the beautiful game among young girls. The programme, which launched in Estonia in 2021, aims to encourage young girls aged between five and eight to discover football through play and the magic of Disney storytelling. Sessions teach important fundamental movement and life skills, create friendships, and build confidence in girls by using Disney movies like Frozen II and The Incredibles 2 to provide a fun and safe introduction to learning football.

A UEFA Playmakers session in Estonia.
A UEFA Playmakers session in Estonia.Estonian Football Association

Playmakers has been successful in reaching over 800 girls in Estonia, providing them with the opportunity to get active and take up football in a safe, enjoyable environment. The programme has been widely lauded for its innovative, dynamic approach and partnership with Disney, aimed at making football more accessible, enjoyable, and relevant to girls. By using interactive and engaging methods, the programme ensures that girls develop a love and passion for the sport, empowering them to become confident and competent players both on and off the field.

Find Playmakers near you