The year 2011 is a key one for European women's football, a fact reflected by recent developments in UEFA's promotion and funding of the female game. At a key conference on women's football in London this week, UEFA took the opportunity to highlight the intensifying of its work to strengthen and develop this rapidly evolving sector.
Speaking at the 2011 European Women and Sport conference at London's Grange City hotel, William Gaillard, adviser to the UEFA president, underlined the support that UEFA is giving to its 53 member national associations following momentous decisions taken in the past few months.
"At the very end of last year, the UEFA Executive Committee decided for the first time to earmark funds out of its HatTrick solidarity programme to specifically finance the development of women's football in our 53 national associations," said Gaillard. "Altogether, we are talking about €23.6m being distributed to our member national associations over a four-year period between 2012 and 2016. This is indeed a strong political signal."
Gaillard explained that UEFA is also placing considerable emphasis on knowledge-sharing by organising numerous workshops and seminars throughout the year that also provide ideal networking opportunities for those working in the women's game.
In addition, Karen Espelund, the former long-serving general secretary of the Football Association of Norway (NFF) and current chairwoman of UEFA’s Women's Football Committee, has been co-opted as a member by invitation to the UEFA Executive Committee and will be championing UEFA's new women's football development strategy. "Its stated goal is to make football the No1 team sport for girls and women in Europe," said Gaillard. "This is no utopian goal. Women's football is the third largest sport in England after men's football and men's cricket. At the same time, much remains to be done since one third of our 53 member associations have less than 1,000 registered female players."
Gaillard added that, in the last two years, UEFA had awarded a number of scholarships for the study of football. "I am proud to say that as a result of our deliberations, already a good number of women's football projects have been financed in such different fields as history, sociology and sports medicine."
In concluding, he referred to the extraordinary success of the FIFA Women's World Cup organised in Germany this summer. "In terms of audience and attendance, in terms of technical and athletic quality and in terms of organisation it was an unprecedented resounding success," he said. "It opens up a new era in the spectator quality of women's football; 2011 may remain an epochal milestone in the history of women's football in Europe."