Women's football continues to flourish – and the 2012/13 football season and beyond will see UEFA and its member national associations pushing ahead with activities and initiatives under the UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP), and with the support of UEFA's HatTrick scheme in aid of the 53 European national associations.
Under the WFDP project, expansion is the key word, with UEFA and the associations cooperating to put various visions and practices into place to ensure that women's football continues its forward momentum.
UEFA aims to promote the women's game within national associations. It is encouraging FAs to set major strategic and financial objectives, include women in key positions, and make sure that all associations have a domestic women's league. Grassroots activities are being intensified, recruitment plans and player paths seek to help players find their appropriate level, and facilities and playing environments should be made suitable for players, officials and spectators.
German women's football great Steffi Jones – a tireless campaigner on behalf of her sport – has been appointed as ambassador for the WFDP, and is working across Europe in tandem with the European body to nurture development and interest in the female game.
The possibilities to cultivate women's football are limitless. Figures show that football is the No1 team sport for women in Europe, and that the number of registered female players has risen from some 239,000 in 1985 to approximately 1.27 million in 2011. The UEFA Executive Committee recognised this growth, and decided that from this summer to 2016, via the HatTrick programme, each member association will be awarded significant funds on a yearly basis to be used specifically for the development of girls and women's football. This investment is a clear signal of UEFA's commitment to the sector.
For the 2012–16 period, the European FAs have been proactive in response to UEFA's call. All 53 have submitted projects either to introduce or to reinforce women's football in their country.
Just over 70% of the projects, in tune with the women's football situation in each association, relate to the grassroots, a crucial area for UEFA in line with its view that grassroots is at the heart of all football, and that all girls should have the opportunity to play football at whichever level they feel comfortable.
Other association initiatives focus on elite women's and elite youth soccer, marketing and promotion, coaching, and even specific coaching for goalkeepers in one case. The schemes are varied in scope and objectives, in accordance with associations' needs, but all have a potential and promise that can only benefit the game across this continent.
They include a new girls' academy at Austria's national football centre; an inaugural women's youth championship in Belarus; specific coaching development courses for goalkeepers in Norway; campaigning in schools in Latvia; a girls' football roadshow in England; and introducing women's football to society in Greece. Some associations plan to launch age-group championships (Azerbaijan, France, Turkey), some are stepping up talent-spotting for the future (Wales, Northern Ireland), and others will be consolidating activities and infrastructures already in operation.
UEFA will continually gather data from its associations to monitor the progress of women's football in every country, and to be able to provide an analysis of the situation at any time. Steffi Jones and women's football experts will be available to visit the FAs to give advice and encouragement, and UEFA will carry on its series of workshops under the innovative KISS (Knowledge & Information Sharing Scenario) programme for sharing information designed to raise overall European standards at club and association levels.
"Opportunities should be provided to all girls who want to play football within their neighbourhood or village, regardless of skill or talent, offering them a safe environment in which to play to their own aspirations," says Karen Espelund, the respected Norwegian who is the first woman to be a full member of the UEFA Executive Committee.
"We need stronger leagues, more female referees, administrators and coaches, and we need female representation at all levels. UEFA has taken some brave decisions, and it is now up to the national associations to follow suit. UEFA will be there to support them."