Women’s soc­cer: Wait and see ap­proach to FIFA strat­egy

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - SPORTS - ANNE M. PETER­SON

FIFA’s new global strat­egy to grow the women’s game is prompt­ing both praise and skep­ti­cism.

Soc­cer’s gov­ern­ing body has been ad­dress­ing the women’s side of the sport in the past sev­eral years, partly in re­sponse to calls for more eq­uity. The re­sult is a five-pronged pro­posal an­nounced this week that fo­cuses on the grass­roots level among FIFA’s 211 mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions.

FIFA wants to see women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion dou­ble to 60 mil­lion world­wide by 2026. A key com­po­nent will be in­sur­ing all as­so­ci­a­tions have com­pre­hen­sive women’ s plans in place by 2022.

The strat­egy will lever­age the Women’s World Cup in France next sum­mer to drive growth.

Former U.S. na­tional team for­ward Abby Wam­bach, an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate of eq­uity, praised FIFA for the strat­egy but wants more de­tails.

“When­ever we’re talk­ing about these big sweep­ing changes, for FIFA it’s a huge deal, but I also want to see it ac­tu­ally hap­pen. I want to see not only the growth of the game, but I also want to see money get into the hands of the women who are ac­tu­ally grow­ing it,” Wam­bach said.

Last month, FIFA pledged to in­crease prize money for the women’s event. The U.S. women’s team earned $2 mil­lion of a $15 mil­lion pool of prize money for the 2015 World Cup; the French men’s team earned $38 mil­lion of a $400 mil­lion pool for win­ning the World Cup this sum­mer.

FIFA has been crit­i­cized for not com­mit­ting to us­ing video re­play to as­sist ref­er­ees at next year’s World Cup. Video as­sis­tant ref­er­ees were used in the men’s World Cup for the first time in Rus­sia. The or­ga­ni­za­tion says a de­ci­sion about VAR will come “in due time.”

Some have com­plained the women’s fi­nal on July 7 is the same day as the Copa Amer­ica fi­nal in Rio de Janeiro and the CON­CA­CAF Gold Cup fi­nal in Chicago, which could take at­ten­tion away from the women’s game.

U.S. coach Jill El­lis, speak­ing af­ter a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing match on Wed­nes­day night, was pleased with the ef­fort to grow the sport. She also crit­i­cized the sched­ul­ing con­flict on the day of the women’s fi­nal.

“They’re tar­get­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion num­bers, and they’re tar­get­ing mar­ket­ing. All of these things are ex­cel­lent for our game in terms of will­ing­ness to grow our sport, grow our brand and make it more avail­able and sup­port­ive. I think it’s great. We need to make sure that it is sup­ported. In my own per­sonal opin­ion, play­ing three big matches in one day isn’t sup­port­ing the women’s game. So, there you go,” El­lis said.

Former U.S. goal­keeper Hope Solo also pointed to the sched­ule.

“FIFA says it’s tak­ing ac­tion to pro­mote grass­roots foot­ball while en­hanc­ing the com­mer­cial value of the women’s game. What they refuse to see is that the value in the women’s game is al­ready there, yet they con­tinue to per­pet­u­ate the in­equal­i­ties,” Solo said.

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