Friday 01 April 2016, 10:59

Teo: We’re taking baby steps

More and more women and young girls are discovering a passion for the beautiful game these days, and as a result, women’s football is now among the fastest-growing sports in many countries. The FIFA programme Live Your Goals, launched in 2011, has made a major contribution to this development. The initiative works to encourage women and girls to start playing football and, just as importantly, to stick with it.

Last year alone, 50 FIFA member associations took up the programme, staging 144 events with over 40,000 youngsters taking part. In 2016, further festivals of football are planned as more associations decide to become involved. One of these is Singapore, where the scheme has found a key voice in getting its message across.

“Live Your Goals is a very vibrant and fresh concept, as it presents female players as role models and thereby encourages young girls to become involved,” says Julie Teo, Director of Women’s and Grassroots Football at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). “It’s a good way to promote women’s football among girls.”

Women’s football on the rise The FAS became responsible for the development of women’s football in 2000 and established a women’s football department in 2004, and the women’s game has since become more and more popular in the Southeast Asian city-state.

“We’ve already organised footballing events for girls,” says Teo. “We had one in 2014 where 300 girls participated, and then another in 2015 with 500. That’s why we decided to initiate a more long-term project and apply for Live Your Goals. The project will start this year.”

While young girls may be the focus of the initiative, Teo believes a key role will be played by older female players in encouraging kids to take part. “There are female role models in this campaign, no question,” she says. “The girls can identify with someone better if they see that person as a mother or sister. They feel comfortable playing with them, especially if they’ve never played football before.

"These role models are also good for the kids because they’ve been through this themselves," she went on. "They know what it was like when they first started playing, how shy they were and how little confidence they had in themselves. They’re great for encouraging these young girls. When we start the Live Your Goals campaign, we’ll do it across the whole country and more and more people will get to know about women’s football in Singapore.”

From grassroots level up While Teo’s plans are ambitious, it will not be lost on her that women’s football has a long way to go in Singapore, where the national team is ranked 103rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola world rankings. Singapore have participated in three AFC Women’s Asian Cups (in 1991, 2001 and 2003) but never progressed past the first round, and the team’s last outing was a 1-0 friendly defeat to Sri Lanka. So what has to be done to steer the women’s game in Singapore firmly in the right direction?

“We need at grassroots level, in schools, domestic competitions and the national teams,” Teo said. “We need female coaches, players, media and marketing. When I came back to Singapore, I started to build up these structures again, creating the U-14, U-16 and U-19 national teams, in order to map out a pathway for girls to progress from grassroots level all the way up to the senior national team. These girls will be role models. They’ll motivate others and show them that in the future they can play in the national team or, when their careers are over, become coaches, team managers, administrators or physiotherapists.

“At the moment we’re taking baby steps. We’ve only just started and we don’t want to put too much pressure on the girls. The first step is just to get them playing again and to give the teams good preparation for friendly matches and regional competitions. With the senior national teams, we definitely want to do well in tournament qualifying, but the main target at the moment is to get things up and running regionally. Once we do that, we’ll see how things progress."