By Athena Constantinou, Managing Director, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia, Cyprus
Association Football (Soccer) is the world’s favourite sport.
In the present decade, which is coming to an end, women’s football has grown in popularity, culminating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup held in June/July this year in France.
According to figures released by FIFA on 18 October 2019, the final between the United States and The Netherlands drew an avergae live viewing audience of 82.18 million and reached a total of 263.62 million unique viewers.
Despite its popularity, the women’s professional game is not, in a number of respects, on an equal footing with the men’s game. The place of women in sport is a burning issue which has received attention on the GSLTR website.
So, will the new decade, which begins on 1 January 2020, lead to the much-needed ‘level playing field’ for women’s football?
This is an important question, which has been addressed in a timely blog by Mary Kok-Willemsen, entitled, ‘A Decade in Comparison – Men and Women football: Apples or Pears?’ which appears on the December 2019 ‘Money Smart Atlete’ website (‘www.moneysmeartathlete.com’).
She has been described as a professional football gamechanger.
She holds the UEFA A license, has been the most succesfull Manager Womensoccer in Holland; and has started her company Holland Football University in 2015, while Founding the FootballEquals Foundation in 2016.
We reproduce below the text of her most interesting blog as follows:
2019 closed with a record beating fancrowd, media attention and commercial value at the Women World Cup in France. No doubt lots of boys, girls, men and women, got somehow inspired by watching their favourite teams and players perform during the World Cup.
But still it was not at the same level… as in men’s football. In 2006, I started as a Manager at FC Twente in Holland by announcing the launching of the professional women football team of our club; unique for Holland at that time. But 6 months after, the KNVB announced an Eredivisie league with 8 teams and in 2007 the professional women’s league officially kicked off.
The Starting point
We started with 8 teams of players; a strong core of players of 23+ that used to train in amateur football during the past 11 years, barely training 2 to 3 times a week. We put these players in our professional and exlusive club uniform and parachuted them into the fan field of expectations. Fans were introduced to the new womens team by:
- Hearing about THEIR club starting a PROFESSIONAL women team
- Hearing about the men professional team budget being shared with the women team
- Watching their professional women team with expectations of seeing professional level fitness, skills and tactics that were used to seeing in the men’s professional football games
I have a lot of respect for these women directly from the start, who now had to train 6 times a week, the same as the men proteam! But still, between their trainings they had to finish College or hold an office job to pay the rent. These players had to outperform expectations, but they never had the professional education of a decade before… So in 2007, we were the only professional women’s team that started with a professional Academy directly from the beginning. We won the Cup with our FC Twente Women team during the first year, but ended last on the Leaguetable 3 years in a row. However in the 4th year we won our first national title with a core of homegrown Academy players between 16 and 21 years old! It was the beginning of the FC Twente Women team Dynasty in Holland!
Amateurs to Role Models in 10 years!
Exactly 10 years after the Eredivisie started, Holland became unexpectedly the European Champion! Most of the players in the starting line up, appeared in that same Eredivisie in 2007. Players that held 10 years of professional training were now consummate professionals, being paid for playing, coaching and analysing football. These players have shown that sports is, amongst others, about:
- Belonging to a team
- Feeling inspired by a favourite player who demonstrates the fight, blood, sweat and tears for your favourite national team, or club jersey
Boys, girls, men and women were showing massive interest in relation to their heroes and teams. And as we have seen in the Worldcup, these values and interest are not gender specific.
2020: Will this be the decade we equal the playing field?
So imagine what has been done in a decade; the quality of play has been improving with rocket speed; the high quality of the Super League in England has pleasantly surprised many conservative football analysts in very positive ways. What if during the coming decade we focus on adding 10+ years of quality professional development, and create an exciting and well deserved professional education for talented girls as well?
I personally believe that we should not seperate the training of young football players by age, nationality or gender. We should just focus on creating the best tailormade professional education for all of them. For young football players ranging from 8 till 18 years, my FootballEquals Academy is a professional Academy for boys and girls together, where every player has their own best professional pathway.
Imagine how the end of this decade can look for women’s football if we decide together now to invest in equal development chances for both male and female football players. And then, let’s compare again their progress a few years down the road. Because in the end I don’t care if it is apples or pears, I care about the best, the most attractive piece of fruit that is juicy and holds its bite. It is the same in football. When it comes to training, it should not matter if it is men’s or women’s football. Both men and women should share the same training. And when that happens, we will not have to make a choice anymore, but we will enjoy the best homegrown apples AND pears!”
Plenty of food for thought there for the football authorities; and what happens next in the women’s game will be awaited with much interest by women’s footballers, their fans and supporters alike!
Athena Constantinou may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’