There is delight, and perhaps also a certain honest surprise, at the tremendous rise of women's football in Europe over the past 15 years.
From humble and hopeful beginnings, and thanks to the unstinting work of UEFA, its national associations, dedicated officials and administrators and countless supporters and volunteers, the women's game has blossomed in spectacular style to become a football attraction in its own right – and the work goes on daily to promote and nurture women's football and attract more girls and women to become involved in the sport; as players, referees, officials, volunteers or just as enthusiastic spectators.
Competitions such as the Women's EURO and UEFA Women's Champions League have gained in exposure and developed their own distinct niches. The top European women's footballers have emerged as personalities and role models for young girls to admire. Every passing competition – whether at senior level or in the European women's youth tournaments – brings technical and tactical progress, burgeoning public and commercial interest, and the inescapable feeling that women's football is moving forward at a tremendous pace. The future contains countless possibilities, and UEFA and the European associations are determined to increase the impetus and seize every opportunity to set new standards on a consistent basis.
Women's football growth and development within Europe remains consistent. Research compiled by UEFA for 2016/17 shows that the total number of registered female players now numbers over 1.270 million. More and more young girls are playing football, with the number of registered players under 18 now standing at over 827,000. The number of youth leagues (under-6 to under-23) has grown from 164 to 266 between 2012/13 and 2016/17.
Six countries – England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, have more than 100,000 female players. The number of professional and semi-professional players is also growing, from 1,303 in 2012/13 to 2,853 in 2016/17. Meanwhile, fifty-two countries have a women's national league, and the number of national teams in Europe, including youth teams, has risen from 173 in 2012/13 to 233 in 2016/17. There are now 17,553 qualified female coaches in Europe’s national associations.
The further development of women's football is in safe hands. UEFA and the national associations are co-operating impressively within the UEFA Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP). UEFA has taken hold of the moment – the Executive Committee noted the massive growth of the female game on this continent, in both registered players and participation, and agreed in 2010 to support the development programme over the period until 2016 via UEFA's HatTrick assistance schemes.
UEFA is promoting the game within national associations not yet active in this sector, encouraging FAs to set major strategic and financial goals in this respect, recommend the inclusion of women in key positions, and ensure that all associations have a domestic women's league. Associations are being guided in how to market women's football. Grassroots activities are being intensified, recruitment plans and player paths aim to help players find their appropriate level, and facilities and playing environments should be made suitable for players, officials and spectators. The appointment of prominent women's football figures in ambassadorial roles also gives a high profile to women's football promotion.
Once more, the latest UEFA figures confirm the extent of the work being achieved across the continent. Twenty national associations have girls' national academies to create a development pathway for young players; 10,200 female referees officiate at matches; 44 FAs have women's football committees. As part of a drive to bring more women in to senior roles, UEFA has launched its own specific leadership programme for women involved in the UEFA national associations, and associations are following suit. In 2016/17, 399 women were working at managerial level or above in national associations (121 in 2012/13).
The forward progress of women's football is also being made possible through the care and devotion showed to women's football by the UEFA Women's Football Committee, which fosters the development and progression of women's football in general, as well as the development of women's competitions.
Karen Espelund, chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee, is observing the present and viewing the future with great optimism. UEFA's decision to invest in the development of women's football was a wise and forward-looking move, and the results of this vision are clear to see," she says. "UEFA has pledged, as one of its priority activities, to constantly promote and nurture women's and girls' football. This pledge is paying handsome dividends. It is extremely heartening to see how Europe's national associations have responded with concrete actions and programmes to give women and girls the opportunity to become involved in the game.
"Continuing to strengthen the grassroots base of women's football in Europe is a key objective for UEFA. UEFA will keep offering its full backing to associations to help women's and girls' football become even stronger in the years to come."
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