Mumbai: FIFA's Chief Women's Football Officer Sarai Bareman on Saturday said she hopes to expand Women's Under-17 World Cup in the next four-year cycle.
One of Bareman's key mandate as the chief women's football officer includes doubling sport's global female player base from 30 million to 60 million by 2026. However, with the Women's Under-17 World Cup 2020 comprising only 16 teams, least across all age group World Cups, there is a need for expansion of the player base, reckoned Bareman.
"Yes, absolutely," she said. "We need to provide more opportunities for our member associations to participate at the highest level and we know that international competitions create a huge driver of growth. We have to also expand the women's youth competitions. More opportunities means that the pathway to those national teams are activated and if we can expand it, we absolutely should."
The senior Women's World Cup, which was held earlier this year had 24 teams participating, while the announcement of 32 teams, equal to the existing number of teams in Men's World Cup, has already been made for the next edition. India will be hosting next the Under-17 Women's World Cup that kicks off on 2 November 2020.
Without explicitly mentioning a time frame for the expansion, Bareman said, "It is something that we are discussing very seriously at the moment. In the closing press conference of the World Cup in France four months ago, our (FIFA) president spoke about some initiatives that he would like to advocate to grow the women's game and one of those was to expanding the World Cup to 32."
"Another area was also to look at the youth competitions, to understand how we can make more from these (World Cups) opportunities as the first stepping stone onto the international playing field and it is something we are looking into very seriously. I know it is something that FIFA would like to do, but we also have to consider how our confederations and qualifying competitions and pathways that are leading to our final tournaments as well. The way it works in the football world is, we typically work in four year cycles. Next year, 2020, is start of the four year cycle for the competition calendar. I personally would like to see within this next cycle we look to expand our youth World Cups," Bareman told Firstpost.
Besides expansion and growth of football at the grassroot levels, creating opportunities, drive for equality and the battle against perception were recurring themes in the conversation with the first-ever Chief Women’s Football Officer.
Citing an example of how cultural challenges form a roadblock in expansion and popularising the sport among women at grassroot level, the former Samoan international said, "At the grassroots level, I think there are many challenges and I think it is also very specific to the region or a country. In some places in the world we still have cultural challenges that exists, which are based around the position of women and girls in society. They perhaps then have a flow on effect, whether they can play and participate in football.
"I think in other places, for example: South America – there is still a negative perception around women's football, being that it should be a male sport – and that the women who are playing are maybe perceived to be very masculine. It is a very macho concept there.
She also said that there are other challenges with regards to the availability of resources.
"In some places it is difficult for girls who want to play to have access to a playing field. To be able to have access to a coach who is able to support them and playing and teach and even having a competition to play and participate.
"Lot of it is linked to the perception. Football when you look at it as whole is historically is a man's sport. It is male dominated, if you look at the history of football competitions, between men's and women's World Cup there was a 61-year gap. If you look at the Olympics there was almost 100 years before the first women's team played since the first men's team played. So there is a big historical gap."
Bareman, who is considered a trailblazer in many ways, gave her entry into the decision-making process of FIFA as an example.
"When I arrived in FIFA in late 2016, I was one of the very, very few women inside the decision-making level. Before that I was working in confederation and federation and I was always seeing as a women and the sport to be something unusual. So there is a historical reason, why women's football and women in football has always been something that's relatively new. This creates a perception for the people involved in the sport that maybe its not for woman, but why are these women here, this is a man's sport. It is that perception that we are working to change.
"This is the reason why in 2018 we launched for the first time a global strategy for women's football. The way that we structured this strategy was deal in five very specific areas: Development, commercialiaation, communication, competition, educating and empowering and also governance of the game. I don't think there is going to be one magic pill that will unlock the potential of women's football, its the whole ecosystem that we have to work on."
The strategy and its key features will be the guiding light for member associations to help them built their own strategies to provide growth at the grassroots level, believes Bareman.
The New Zealand-born Bareman also said that a lot of the challenges regarding the perception towards women's football needs to be looked historically and requires time.
"Football when you look at it as whole is historically is a man's sport. It is male dominated, if you look at the history of football competitions, between men's and women's World Cup there was a 61-year gap. If you look at the Olympics there was almost 100 years before the first women's team played since the first men's team played. So there is a big historical gap.
"The only thing we can do to change this is time, time is one thing. When you make a cultural change as you know takes time, but it is also to address the ecosystem of the game at all levels. On and off the field, in the decision making, bodies, governance, communicating better, making our sport available for more people to watch, increasing opportunities to play. The only way we can change this historical gap that exists is to really invest in the entire ecosystem of the game."
The unrivalled success of Women's World Cup 2019 was her case in point. The World Cup in France garnered a lot of attention from mainstream media, with the close to 60,000 spectators turned up at Parc Olympique Lyonnais for the Finals. According to FIFA, 1.12 billion viewers watched the coverage on TV at home, on digital platforms or out-of-home.
"I am very happy to say that you know through initiatives like global strategy for women's football through the Women's World Cup, particularly this year, was a game-changing moment," she remarked.
"People who maybe traditionally not supporting Women's Football, when they saw were like 'Wow! This is really something!','These athletes are incredible!', and when something like that happens you can't ignore."
As far as the next edition of the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup is concerned, Bareman said she was very excited with the prospect of India hosting the competition.
"There is so much passion in this country for sport. We saw in 2017 for the Men's Under-17 World Cup. I think if we can convert this passion next year for the Under-17 Women's World Cup it will be an incredible opportunity. Obviously, there is a massive population in India and we look to grow and increase the positive impact of our game. There are so many girls and young women here in this country that deserve the opportunity to play football."
The one area still remains of concern is the wave that rises with the arrival of the World Cup descends rather quickly once the tournament ends.
Bareman said, "I would like to see there are dedicated resources for women's football when this inevitable momentum comes from hosting a FIFA World Cup within the structures of football who can carry it on with programs and projects that provide those opportunities for girls to continue to play."
"The government's support I think is very important there is very well-structured system here with the state federations. I think that having the government come on board and supporting each of these states also, it helps them to achieve their objectives. So I think it is important that we also see the footballing structure partnering with the governments and the local municipalities as well to make positive impact for girls."
Updated Date: Nov 05, 2019 09:30:50 IST