When FIFA released its global strategy for women’s soccer last year, it was met with some skepticism. But the sport’s governing body is making some strides in implementing the long-range plan — against a backdrop of this summer’s World Cup in France.
Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s chief women’s football officer, told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview that there have been three preliminary, or pilot, workshops for member federations in Kuwait, Botswana and Latvia. There will be more individually tailored workshops as the year progresses.
The aim is to help the federations across the globe develop in the women’s game — sometimes from the ground up. In Kuwait, for example, a women’s futsal league has begun to gain a foothold.
FIFA has also been holding conferences dedicated to women’s soccer with each of the six confederations over the past year, with a global event set for June before the start of the World Cup.
Bareman has been extolling the power of the women’s game as the World Cup trophy made its way to each of the 24 nations competing in the tournament. While she must work within the confines of her organization, she is a sincere cheerleader for growing the sport.
“I love waking up in the morning and scrolling through my Twitter feed and seeing all this amazing stuff that’s happening in the women’s game at the moment and especially building up to the Women’s World Cup this summer,” she said. “It’s really creating such a positive momentum and a positive vibe behind the women’s game, it’s awesome to see.”
Bareman’s work coincides with efforts by players globally to call attention to inequality with the men’s game. The US women’s national team filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination. Maca Sanchez successfully fought to be recognized as a professional by the Argentine women’s league. Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg isn’t playing for Norway’s World Cup-bound national team because of what she sees as the federation’s lack of respect for the women’s side.
FIFA has faced increasing pressure in recent years over its management of the women’s game, which critics say gets short shrift.
The organization came under fire four years ago before the start of the last World Cup over the artificial turf fields that were used. A group of players, led by US star Abby Wambach, took legal action, claiming that the men’s World Cup was always held on natural grass and holding the women’s event on turf amounted to discrimination. The tournament in Canada went on as planned.
However, in the run-up to the event in France, FIFA has taken steps to address at least some concerns about inequity.
Many, including US national team coach Jill Ellis, called on FIFA to use video review, known as VAR, during this year’s World Cup after it was used by game officials for the first time at the men’s tournament in Russia last year. FIFA announced in March that the technology would indeed be used in France.