Monday 09 October 2023, 10:45

FIFA Women’s Football Strategy marks fifth anniversary

  • FIFA’s Women’s Football Strategy launched five years ago today 

  • Since its introduction, two FIFA Women's World Cups have been held, with the women’s game booming globally

  • The Strategy and its five pillars formed the framework of the recent FIFA Women's Football Convention

“When I started at FIFA in 2016, some said we couldn’t. Some said we wouldn’t, and some even said that we shouldn’t. But look at us now. Look at the women’s game. Look at how far we have come in a few short years.” Speaking full of emotion at the FIFA Women’s Football Convention on the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ Final, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman reflected on just how far the women’s game has grown. On 9 October 2018, FIFA launched the FIFA Women’s Football Strategy, outlining ‘how FIFA will work with all stakeholders to take concrete steps to empower girls and women, make football a sport for all and advocate against gender discrimination.’ It also noted that ‘the state of play in women’s football today (in 2018) is that the game is both in rude health and in need of fundamental change.’

The strategy’s key objectives were to: Grow Participation by increasing female participation globally; Enhance the Commercial Value, by shaping new revenue streams and optimising existing ones around women’s events to allow the expansion of development efforts; and Build the Foundations, creating a more sophisticated women’s football ecosystem and encouraging leadership roles for women that will modernise the management of the game.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the launch and provides us with the perfect opportunity to see how far we’ve come, within the five pillars.

Develop & Grow

In order to grow the game, the strategy outlined how FIFA must not only promote football in those areas where it is not currently played by women, it also needs to further develop the game in those areas where women already take to the pitch every single day. This would be via the implementation of new programmes and initiatives to broaden participation, many of which will seek to improve upon existing pathways for women to participate in the game.

In order to achieve this, five tactics were outlined, spanning from the modernising of development programmes, the development of a Football For Schools programme, and improving technical development. In 2019, a pilot FIFA Football for Schools (F4S) programme took off, which as of October 2023, has seen more than 90 FIFA member associations apply to it; almost 1.5 million footballs distributed to children globally, and more than 23 million children utilise the F4S app.

A year later, FIFA announced that member associations will be able to apply for support across eight key areas of women’s football development during the 2020-2023 period. In addition to financial assistance to cover the costs in selected programmes, the FIFA Women’s Development Programme also committed to provide MAs with access to women’s football experts, additional equipment, and technical support to develop women’s football in their country. Since then, under the banner of FIFA’s Women’s Development Programme, FIFA has delivered over 900 projects in 137 Member Associations (MAs) around the world – all dedicated to the growth of women’s football.

Showcase the Game

The aim of this pillar of the strategy is to increase the appeal of women's football to players, fans, and commercial partners. By optimising its current and future competitions - FIFA’s Council announced as recently as its meeting on 4 October, the creation of a new FIFA Women’s Futsal World Cup - FIFA aims to ensure that the best players and teams are showcased and that there is an effective means to develop the future stars of the women’s game.

Just how much the face of women's football has changed in recent years was exemplified by the 2023™ FIFA Women's World Cup. Almost 2 million fans attended matches. In Australia, the Matildas’ semi-final match was the most-watched television programme on record (since the OzTAM audience measurement system started in 2001), and over 3 billion views of content were achieved on FIFA’s social and digital platforms…the list of superlatives continues.

On the pitch, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 was also the most competitive, an even more impressive feat given that it was the first edition to expand from 24 to 32 teams and featured eight debutants. New Zealand won their first ever match at a FIFA Women’s World Cup; Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa progressed to the Round of 16; a record number of goals (164) were scored, and elsewhere, other records were broken, such as Korea Republic’s Casey Phair, at 16 years and 26 days, becoming the youngest player to make an appearance in FIFA Women’s World Cup history. 

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 was also the first edition that saw a team from all six confederations celebrate a win during the tournament.

The growth of women’s football globally is also marked by the increased activity of women’s national teams. The number of officially ranked teams has increased from 155 in 2019 to the all-time high of 188 in 2023 and so to has the number of teams participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers. In 2019, 140 MAs attempted to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup which increased to 168 in the lead up to this year’s edition.

Communicate and Commercialise

The FIFA Women’s Football Strategy committed to ‘broadening the exposure of women’s football and increasing its commercial value.’ The successful 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup™ has also helped to raise the profile of women's football through increased engagement, different campaigns, use of technology, implementation of a clear brand strategy and use of role models and ambassadors. One set tactic of the strategy was to ‘enhance women’s football engagement with existing commercial partners.’ On 13 December 2021, FIFA announced its first dedicated commercial program for Women’s football, launched to accelerate growth and equality of the women’s game.

The commercial appeal of the women’s game was highlighted when FIFA announced that all partnership packages for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ were sold out on the opening day. FIFA’s commercial partnership programme grew from 12 (six partners and six host country supporters) during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019™ to 30 this year – marking an increase of over 100%, showing that the women’s game has strength to stand on its own two feet commercially.

Govern & Lead

The FIFA Women’s Football Strategy also committed to broaden female representation in football decision-making at the highest levels and further refine the regulatory frameworks that will foster the professionalisation of the women’s game.

The promotion of women leaders was a key focus here, as well as the expansion of women's representation in football's decision-making bodies at the highest level.

Among the explicitly stated aims were the upskilling, empowering, and creating stronger networks for women who work in football, and offering women already working in the football structures of FIFA's MAs or confederations the perfect platform to expand their knowledge and gain the necessary experience.

One such programme implemented to help deliver this is the FIFA Women in Football Leadership Programme. Tsholofelo Setlhoko, Head of Women's Football at the Botswana Football Association (BFA), is one of the current participants, alongside Cherie-Lee Atkinson, who is a member of the WaiBOP Football Association board.

"This programme is about personal development and self-confidence - and I don't think I really realised this aspect until I was there. But this made me realise that this is exactly what we need as women leaders. We need to develop our own self-awareness to become better leaders,” said Atkinson.

Educate and Empower

FIFA will harness the power of the game and its competitions to highlight football’s positive social impact on women and girls all around the world.

During women's tournaments, close cooperation with host countries and regional NGOs is essential to develop sustainable social impact projects that highlight the power of football as a means to improve the lives of players.

The involvement of legendary female footballers who advocate for access, equal opportunities, health benefits and positive social change through the game, as well as providing additional exposure, is also proving to be a powerful tool.

During the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, FIFA, in partnership with several United Nations agencies, highlighted a range of social causes, selected following extensive consultation with stakeholders including players and the 32 participating member associations.

Under the global campaign, Football Unites the World, eight specific messages were communicated during the final tournament, promoted via the team captains’ armbands, pitch side digital LED boards, large flags presented on the pitch, giant screens in stadiums and via social media. The consultation process ensured that the social causes being promoted during the tournament were reflective of topics that the players were passionate about.

On the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final on 20 August 2023, FIFA published the Women’s Football: Member Associations Survey Report 2023, highlighting current and potential future development opportunities within the game, both on, and off the pitch.

The number of women and girls playing organised football has increased by nearly a quarter compared to 2019 (up to 16.6 million), with 88% of member associations surveyed now having a women’s football strategy.

Speaking at the FIFA Women’s Football Convention, Sarai Bareman had this to say. "This year we’ve felt a seismic shift in the way that people see the women’s game. 2023 is about showing the world what it means to take the game beyond greatness. To put our players on the pedestal that they belong, to fill them stadiums, smash records - and we were doing it on a daily basis in this tournament - break down barriers and show every young girl and boy, from every corner of the world that they can dream to make a living from football."

The task now, is to continue to build on this momentum.