Lyon succeeding with gender agenda

Olympique Lyonnais compete in the UEFA Women's Champions League semi-finals on Saturday in the week their men reached the same stage. looks at their bid for a unique double.

Lyon women have players from as far afield as Costa Rica's Shirley Cruz Traña
Lyon women have players from as far afield as Costa Rica's Shirley Cruz Traña ©Allan Storkborg/

Olympique Lyonnais could complete a unique double in the space of three days next month with a real chance the club could win both the men's and women's UEFA Champions League.

By reaching the semi-finals for the first time this week, the men's side emulated their female equivalents, who welcome Umeå IK to Stade de Gerland on Saturday for the first leg of their tie in the UEFA Women's Champions League last four. Should the women progress past the stage where they fell on both their previous European entries, they will progress to the 20 May final at Getafe's Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, two days before the UEFA Champions League showpiece at the Santiago Bernabéu across Madrid.

No club has won both premier European competitions, the closest being Arsenal FC, whose female team won the old UEFA Women's Cup in 2007 12 months after the men lost to FC Barcelona in Paris. Arsenal, thanks to their 1994 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup win, are the only club with European men's and female honours, while FC Bayern München's bid to win the newly-introduced UEFA Women's Champions League this season was ended by Montpellier Hérault SC in the round of 16.

Montpellier are one of several men's Ligue 1 sides now investing in female football. Paris Saint-Germain FC are leading Lyon in the title race and AS Saint-Etienne and Toulouse FC are improving fast, but Lyon have shown the way with three straight league championships. Like their men's team they have built a squad of the best French players and added foreign talent like Sweden striker Lotta Schelin.

Lyon's success is the vision of club president Jean-Michel Aulas. The women share sponsorship with the men and are part of the same marketing strategy with identical goals – to succeed in France and in Europe. The women even play their biggest games at Stade de Gerland, sch as the Umeå fixture, attracting as many as 12,000 fans.

Farid Benstiti, who coaches the female side, said: "Women's football owes a lot to Olympique Lyonnais. The president wants a great women's team. And we all have to try harder to succeed in this aim. We're all thrilled about this goal. On top of that we are handed the resources to reach the top. We just have to win titles."