World Cup fever to boost female participation in football

The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup kick-offed earlier this month with a victory of the hosts Canada against China and a new attendance record in Canadian football with over 53,000 fans watching the opening match.

The tournament, which has been expanded to 24 teams and will last almost a month, will feature for the first time eight European teams (England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain, and Switzerland), reflecting a positive development of the sport in Europe.

Women's football is currently one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The success of previous events has helped increase the popularity of the game among fans, enthusiasts and participants.

Numbers predict that the 2015 World Cup will be the most viewed Women's World Cup ever. The organising committee said on Tuesday they're projecting this weekend to break the USA 1999 record attendance of 1,194,215 as the ticket sales hit 1.125 million.

Statistics also illustrate that after the second round group games 28.7 million fans visited FIFA digital platforms, 77% more than at the Women's World Cup Germany 2011. TV numbers are predicted and projected to go from 400,000 to a billion.

Building on the momentum, campaigners and football organisations have launched a series of initiatives to increase the visibility of women's football and boost the participation of girls and women across the game.

International campaigns
Ahead of the tournament, FIFA launched a new campaign to promote women’s football and gender equality led by a TV spot. The 'No Barriers' ad features young female footballers working together to break down an imposing wall by kicking a football against it with increasing determination, skill and power.

The advert supports the world's football governing body Live Your Goals campaign, which is looking to increase the number of girls and women playing football worldwide from 30 to 45 million by the time of the Women’s World Cup in France in 2019.

"This is going to be a breakthrough year for women’s football and we wanted to do something special to send an inspiring message to girls everywhere that there should be no barriers for anyone in football." said FIFA former director of communications and public affairs Walter De Gregorio.

Over 10,000 fans across the globe have pledged support to the #LiveYourGoals campaign.

In May, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Associations (CONCACAF) held the region's inaugural Women's Football Day, in which 37 of its 41 member associations participated, to generate awareness about the transformative power of women’s football for girls and women; promote and encourage continued investment in women’s football; and unite all its Member Associations in creating a memorable day of women’s football.

With women's football on the spotlight because of the Women's World Cup, a Canadian grassroots social media campaign is encouraging the practice of football as a way to raise awareness and put an end to violence against women and girls.

Play it Forward follows the model of last year’s ground-breaking ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and is asking supporters of the campaign to play football for 20 minutes and 15 seconds and share the experience on social media. Participants should take a selfie, add a message calling for the end of violence against women, and upload it on social media using the hashtags #2015in2015 and #PlayItForward, challenging three more friends to do the same.

In England, the first ever Women's Sport Week, held between 1-7 June, took on the tournament's momentum to raise the profile of female athletes in Britain, while transforming sport for the benefit of every woman and girl. The initiate counted with the support of the English international Casey Stoney.

The English national team has also backed The FA free football for women and girl's initiative, constituted of free football sessions throughout June to promote the sport.

Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley said: "Hopefully this will not only encourage girls to try out football but to start playing regularly, which can only be a good thing for the entire women's game."

During the last stages of the tournament, Fare member DISCOVER FOOTBALL will hold the 'Beyond Borders' football festival, between 30 June and 5 July, for teams and social initiatives from across the world to come together and address all kinds of social and cultural barriers. The event will welcome players, coaches, referees and activists from China, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt, Serbia, Morocco, Colombia, South Africa, Benin, Norway, Zambia, Georgia, Niger, Nigeria, Kyrgyztan, Bangladesh and Tibet.

Players seek to maintain the momentum
World Cup participating teams have also highlighted the importance of the event to break stereotypes and change perceptions around women's football.

Five-times winner of the FIFA Balon d'Or Marta da Silva said: "I try to use all awards I achieve, which so far are a record number in men's and women's football, to increasingly help women's football."

On 09 June, the Brazilian international became the all-time leading goalscorer in the history of Women's World Cups. On the same day, Marta's teammate Formiga became the oldest player to score at a Women's World Cup at the age of 37.

Interviewed for the Spanish newspaper ABC Vero Boquete, captain of the Spanish national team, stressed: "The biggest hope for us is that if we perform well in Canada, people will start to pay more attention to women's football and follow it more.

"The event will be broadcast on TV and media will talk about it, so I believe the opportunity is there.

"We have to take it and put on a good show. This way people will hopefully look at women's football and like it. Obviously, if we win and keep on winning, this will help engage more people. Maybe more girls will then want to be football players and more women will attend matches."

Irish referee Michelle O’Neill, the second Irish appointee to officiate at FIFA highest level, spoke about the importance of being a role model for aspiring referees: "It took many supporters a while to accept female officials, but now the respect is there and we’re just part of the team of officials now.

"We’re trying to get more young people involved in refereeing, especially women, and they are like: ‘oh no I couldn’t do that’, but you haven’t tried it yet."

In May, Electronic Arts announced that the FIFA 16 video game will feature 12 Women’s national football teams for the first time in the game’s history when it launches in September this year.

England captain Steph Houghton said: "To be one of the first female players included is something we'll always be able to look back on,".

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