Despite its ever-increasing popularity over the past twenty years, women’s football is still very much in its infancy compared to other sporting endeavours. Continuing discrepancies in developmental rates for women’s football around the world -- depressingly slow in some places, incredibly fast in others -- are a reflection of how different countries have approached the development of the game, both at the domestic and national team levels.
Football for young girls in many parts of the world is often considered more of a solely recreational activity by coaches and parents and even by club managers and administrators. This is due to a variety of reasons, including existing cultural barriers, social mores and the lack of any financial hope for a future in the game.
In response, FIFA's systematic development work for women’s football has become one of its major and most enduring activities. Since beginning this world development programme focused on women’s football, hundreds of coaches, players, referees, administrators and doctors have taken advantage of development courses, symposiums, video productions, and other activities organised by FIFA.
At the 2nd FIFA Women's Football Symposium in Los Angeles in July of 1999, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter expressed his vision and support for women’s football moving into the future. FIFA’s commitment since has seen the continuing emergence of the FIFA Women’s World Cup as one of the true marquee events of the FIFA calendar. FIFA has also continued to demand that national associations fulfil their minimum requirements to develop the sport in line with this emergence.
It was in 1994 that FIFA took the unprecedented step of appointing the first four female assistant referees in the world. These women were included in the universal (male) list. In 1995, FIFA followed this up with significant changes for women referees and assistant referees, by introducing FIFA’s first ever list of women referees just in time for the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sweden.
Year upon year the list has grown in number and quality and today there are more than 110 FIFA women referees and 135 FIFA women assistant referees across 75 countries and 204 national associations. There are now enough women referees to officiate at most women’s international matches. During the two most recent international competitions, the Women’s World Cup USA 1999 and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Football Tournament, the referees and assistant referees officiating were all women.
To better develop the sport, confederations and national associations must lend a hand in offering support, supervision, training, mentors, and role models to everyone involved in women’s development. They must drive their development programs down the age ladder with U-19 and U-16 teams, giving younger players a more intense learning scenario. Praise for the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Canada last year has been universal from players and coaches alike. The next tournament is being held in Thailand next year.
Along with this emergence of a new international tournament, confederations and national associations are increasing their focus on the inevitable future of women’s football. FIFA has implemented a standard wherein every federation is directed to spend at least 4% of the money from FIFA’s Financial Assistance Program on developing women’s football.
The goal of this initiative should be a place for women in every level of the sport’s hierarchy, not just as players, but as coaches, referees and administrators. FIFA is committed itself to following the principle of developing and promoting men and women equally, and FIFA is convinced that by continuing to work with national associations and taking note of their initiatives, the standard of women’s world football -- and the standard of women in world football -- will continue to rise.