The Republic of Ireland has become the latest country in Europe to launch a national women's football league, with UEFA's financial support. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was one of the four member associations to receive funding from UEFA for women's football development during a pilot phase in 2010/11, the other three being Italy, Portugal and Slovakia. Steffi Jones, UEFA's recently appointed Women's Football Development Programme Ambassador, highlighted the importance of stable league football to women's football development at the launch in Dublin.
UEFA's Director of National Associations and Deputy General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis said: "UEFA is proud to see women's football continue to grow across its member associations. The launch of this league in the Republic of Ireland, in cooperation with the FAI, is another concrete example of UEFA's funding earmarked for women's football making a real difference."
Steffi Jones, UEFA Women's Football Development Ambassador, said: "Starting a national league is an essential step for women's football development in the Republic of Ireland. Playing in club competitions is the gateway to A-team football and ensures a stable future for women's football, as well as an incentive for girls around the country."
The Bus Éireann Women's National League in the Republic of Ireland will commence in November. The six clubs who have been invited to compete in the league are this season's UEFA Women's Champions League participants Peamount United, Castlebar Celtic FC, Cork Women's FC, Raheny United, Shamrock Rovers and Wexford Youths Women's AFC. The winner of the league qualifies to the 2012/13 UEFA Women's Champions League. This season's final will be played on Thursday 17 May 2012 in Munich.
Sue Ronan, the FAI's Women's Senior Head Coach, said: "A National league has been the biggest missing link on our player pathway and filling that gap means our players will now experience playing in a top-level competition at home, rather than having to go abroad to experience this. A tremendous amount of development work has taken place around the country at grassroots level over the past 5 years, which has resulted in a huge growth in our number of registered players – doubling from 10,500 to approx. n22,000 during that time. We can now look forward to many of these players progressing to the league, where they will have the opportunity to play against the best and realise their potential."
In December 2010, the UEFA Executive Committee approved the distribution of the Women's Football Development Programme funds through its HatTrick programme; an initial pilot phase in 2010/11 saw the distribution of €50,000 to four national associations. As of October 2011, the second 2011/12 pilot phase will be allocated an additional budget and funding to member associations will be increased, due to the large interest, from four to an unlimited number.
From July 2012 to 2016, HatTrick III's Women's Football Development Programme will be awarding each member association with €100,000 on a yearly basis to be used specifically for the development of girls and women's football. This represents an investment of €22 million and a clear demonstration of UEFA's commitment to the development of girls and women's football.
The Football Association of Ireland also received €316,000 of UEFA funding for women's football through the HatTrick II Investment Programme in 2008. The FAI's "Soccer Sisters" programme was hosted in 70 venues across the country and catered for over 1,500 girls between the ages of 7 and 11 years.
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