The UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP) is moving forward positively with its latest pilot event taking place against the backdrop of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
The event was hosted by the German Football Association (DFB) in Dusseldorf and helped UEFA to assess further the impact of its increased investment in the women's game, while also looking at the legacy of the Women's World Cup.
A number of other pilot events and activities have already taken place – a women's football day in Portugal, a women's football education workshop in Italy, the setting up of a grassroots programme in Slovakia and the creation of a national league in the Republic of Ireland – as the WFDP pilot phase heads into 2011/12. The DFB, outstanding achievers in the female game, staged the Dusseldorf seminar and gave European women's football another healthy push in the right direction.
Heike Ullrich, head of the DFB women's and girls' football department, welcomed UEFA's initiative, saying: "We are certainly on the right track in making clear – not only in Germany but throughout Europe – that football is naturally a great sport for boys and girls, as well as an excellent platform to overcome borders, to bring together groups from different origins and religious persuasions, and to develop understanding for each other.
"The direct exchange of experiences between nations who have nurtured women's football for some time, and nations who are perhaps now just discovering women's football, is extremely important," she added, emphasising that role models and football decision-makers, such as presidents and general secretaries, can take a key role in actively accelerating development, in accordance with countries' cultural and infrastructural settings.
All 53 UEFA national associations stand to gain from the impetus being attached to women's football by UEFA, with the help of its Knowledge & Information Sharing Scenario (KISS) and the HatTrick assistance programme, and backed by the UEFA Executive Committee. The WFDP is being bolstered via yearly payments of €100,000 between 2012 and 2016, with payments coming from the HatTrick III scheme. Under the programme, associations will be sharing best practices and know-how.
Ullrich also gave a comprehensive overview of the organisational, promotional and social aspects of the Women's World Cup in Germany – a tournament that is proving a major success and is set to leave an important legacy. "I don't think there is anyone left in Germany who has not realised that a Women's World Cup is taking place – the TV audience figures are simply sensational and records are being broken from game to game," she explained. "The fact people who were known to be sceptical about women's football are turning up at stadiums shows that women's football is suddenly occupying everyone's thoughts."
The DFB has continued to invest a great amount in welcoming women who have contracted the football virus – not only players, but potential coaches, team assistants and referees. Now the challenge for FAs and local authorities everywhere is to create ideal frameworks to meet this rising interest. Ullrich went on: "The basic premise for the development of women's and girls' football is that structures and conditions are set to enable each girl that has an interest in playing football to do so – irrespective of whether it is at school, in a club, on the street or on playing fields.
"This is ostensibly a task for the association. Regional authorities should accept it as their duty to use football's integrative strength and give children from, for example, different ethnic backgrounds the opportunity to come into contact with each other and learn from each other via the team sport of football."
Certainly, not only in Germany are people taking fresh notice of women's football. "We hope similar effects will be felt throughout the world as a result of this tournament," Ullrich expanded, "so that as many people as possible deal with women's football as a sport in a fair way – and perhaps also campaign on its behalf in the future."
And what should a girl do if they have been smitten by the football bug and want to play? "Go to the nearest club and simply start – it would be good to take a friend and motivate mum to help look after a team. She'll be welcomed with open arms!"