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While North American picture is positive, women's soccer elsewhere needs help

06/25/2015 05:19 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - While attendance and TV ratings for the Women's World Cup are encouraging in North America, the world governing body of soccer is looking to even the playing field for women.

More female administrators, coaches and leagues are needed. As is more funding for the women's game.

FIFA says its 2014 Women's Football Survey, which drew responses from 177 of 209 member associations, showed that 30 million women play soccer worldwide.

"We are really happy about this number but this is not enough . . . We know we have to work much harder to find more girls that want to play football and to provide them the opportunity," Mayi Cruz-Blanco, FIFA senior women's football development manager, told a news conference Thursday.

FIFA's goal is have 45 million women playing soccer by 2019 when France hosts the next Women's World Cup.

"We want to see that every woman and girl that wants to play football has the opportunity to do so and we want to have more women involved in football and decision-making levels," said Cruz-Blanco. "And we want to build sustainable competition.

"This is one of the biggest challenges that we have. We need to have more leagues, well-structured leagues at all levels."

Cruz-Blanco said the challenge is not FIFA's alone. Member organizations have to carry the torch as well.

FIFA does not have a current number for male players. But it's so-called Big Count survey in 2006 cited 265 million male and female players worldwide.

FIFA has launched nine women's football development programs, including a scholarship initiative that assists B-licensed female coaches to gain access to higher coaching education. Another plan, the Female Leadership Development Program, brings together 35 "promising female leaders" from around the world for three workshops, with the first set to start July 4 in Vancouver.

Women represent only eight per cent of executive committee members at association level.

FIFA's 2014 study showed just 10 per cent of its member associations' staff was dedicated to women's football. In contrast, some 20 per cent of the staff on the Canadian and U.S. associations are dedicated to the women's game.

The numbers for female coaches were also skewed in North America (21 per cent) compared to worldwide (seven per cent).

Female referees are also much better represented in Canada and the U.S. (28 per cent) than the world figure (10 per cent).

When it comes to registered female players, 91 per cent are attached to the top 20 member associations in the FIFA rankings, with the U.S. and Canada leading the way.

The FIFA survey showed that the 177 member associations that took part invest US$156 million in total annually in women's football. However, it also indicated that only a few member associations made significant investments.

The member associations in the top 20 of FIFA's rankings invest on average of $5.4 million per year in women's soccer. That figure drops to between $100,000 and $1.2 million in the levels below.

"The overall need for financial support remains one of the most urgent requirements for member associations to develop women's football, as well as the need for greater media exposure," concludes the FIFA women's study.

FIFA has various funding programs to help the women's game. FIFA's financial assistance program, which offers associations US$1 million over four years, requires that at least 15 per cent must be dedicated to women's soccer.

"This is the minimum requirement," said Cruz-Blanco.

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