The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) has underlined the development of women's football as a top priority – and backed this up with on-field action.
A football festival for girls was organised in Mingachevir, northern Azerbaijan, and proved a great success – involving about 100 girls aged between 9 and 13. Local players as well as teams from the neighbouring cities of Ganja, Imishli and Shaki showed both competitive spirit and a high level of footballing ability during high-scoring games that kept everybody entertained.
Sissy Raith, coach of the Azerbaijan women's Under-15 team, was among the spectators. She said: "I'm delighted that so many promising young girls are taking part in this festival. It's great to see all these girls on the field and that football is not only a sport but also a good communication tool. I wish the girls all the best and hope these talented young players will not forget the main thing in football – fair play."
Another new AFFA initiative is the launch of a women's U15 league consisting of 16 clubs from all over the country. Teams compete in two geographical groups – west and east – and the initial reaction from fans has been positive. It is the first time in Azerbaijan that a league has been created to promote women's football and encourage physical exercise. It is hoped the league will give the girls increased opportunities to develop their skills, while also offering U15 coach Raith a better overview of promising players. The league runs until mid-April.
Football has grown in popularity among Azerbaijani girls in recent years, a trend that was boosted in March when the country was named as host of the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.