OTTAWA - FIFA president Sepp Blatter says soccer can empower women, especially in regions where they face daily roadblocks.
"Twenty years ago, I said 'the future of football is feminine,'" the FIFA boss wrote in his column for The FIFA Weekly. "Today, I note with pride that these were no empty words, because some 30 million women and girls now play football in all 209 FIFA member associations, from A for Afghanistan to Z for Zimbabwe.
"Football has the power to overcome community and social barriers and give women the personal esteem and sense of self-worth they are often denied in everyday life, even in countries where their public roles are strictly limited for cultural reasons."
Blatter's comments came on the eve of Saturday's draw in Gatineau, Que., for the 2015 Women's World Cup.
The FIFA president, who is not slated to attend, called the draw "a new and important chapter ... added to the success story that is women’s football."
The Canadian tournament marks an expansion to 24 teams.
"A glance at the participating nations emphasizes just how global the phenomenon of women’s football has become," Blatter wrote. "Africa has three representatives at the tournament for the first time, including World Cup newcomers Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire. Costa Rica, Thailand, Spain, Ecuador and Switzerland also make their debuts in the competition next summer."
The 78-year-old Blatter has championed women's soccer. But he has made headlines along the way, suggesting in 2004 that women should play "in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball."
In his weekly column, the FIFA boss notes that national associations are obliged to invest a minimum of 15 per cent of development funding in the women's game.
"We will double our financial support for women’s football between 2015 and 2018. The future is now."
FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke congratulated Canada at a news conference Friday for perhaps being the only FIFA association that spends more on women's soccer than men.
The Canadian Soccer Association says 42 per cent of the 865,000 registered soccer players in Canada are female.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter