Article written for Total Football magazine.
London 2012 was the games of the girls. All participating countries fielded at least one female in their team and Great Britain had it’s best ever haul of medals from female athletes.
Team GB’s ladies football team also outshone their male counterparts. Despite both teams not progressing past the quarter-final stages, the women had the highest ever attendances for the female game.
The Football Association paid attention to this. At a time where men’s football is suffering a PR crisis, the FA needs the women to bring that feminine touch to the beautiful game.
The FA’s plan is to make women’s football the second most played sport in the county ahead of men’s cricket and rugby.
It’s an ambitious strategy that includes creating an Elite Performance Unit where the best young players will be developed.
The aim is to raise the standard of the women’s game to that of Germany and the USA where players are turning professional and playing full-time.
FA chairman, David Bernstein believes that women’s football has ‘the most potential for growth in the nation’s favourite game.’
He said: “The standards of football are high and the international game is strong. We have to keep pace with the top female footballing nations both on and off the pitch.”
The biggest chance to keep up with other countries on the field will be the addition of a second division to the FA Women’s Super League.
By introducing promotion and relegation to the league, there will be more for players and clubs to strive for.
England manager Hope Powell (some of the squad pictured) believes that the FA want to ‘build winning teams’ and the establishment of the Elite Performance Unit and a second Super League division should achieve this.
Is the plan enough?
Will the plan be enough? The proposals only includes an extra £3.5m investment over the next four years.
Plans can be rolled out but when the estimated extra investment for fulfilling these ambitions is half the amount Blackburn Rovers spent in August on Jordan Rhodes, you have to ask yourself whether the FA is taking the women’s game seriously.
Extra revenue will be generated through the broadcast and commercial rights being sold separately to the men’s game for the first time.
By making ladies football a brand in it’s own right, the FA is hoping it will begin to generate it’s own revenue.
It will have to raise significant funds to achieve the FA’s ambitions.
What women want
On the day the FA launched their five-year plan, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation made stark claims that the shine of the Olympics legacy is bypassing females because the culture of playing sport only focuses on the ‘urge for them to be thin rather than healthy.’
The charity described this culture as ‘endemic and chronic’ as even at an early age, girls are not taking up sport and only 12 per cent of 14-year-olds are doing any form of physical exercise.
If the FA’s plan is to be successful then it has to work in partnership with schools to encourage girl’s to participate in sport.
I can vividly remember being one of only a handful of girls who wanted to play sport during lessons and the rest just wanting to don a PE skirt to catch the attention of the boys outside the changing rooms.
Changing the culture of what women want and what they realistically have the opportunity to try, is going to be a steep learning curve for the FA.
I just hope the extra £3.5m stretches further than I suspect it will.