Moving women's football forward

I recently attended an AFC/FIFA Women’s Football Seminar in Kuala Lumpur, the first of its kind to be held in Asia. Virtually every country was represented, with over 100 delegates in attendance.

I recently attended an AFC/FIFA Women-s Football Seminar in Kuala Lumpur, the first of its kind to be held in Asia. Virtually every country was represented, with over 100 delegates in attendance.

Given the logistical, financial and cultural challenges faced by women-s football in many Asian countries, this attendance number was significant and highlights the growth and interest in women-s football in our region.

To make such a seminar relevant for everyone is a considerable challenge; however FIFA and the AFC managed to construct a program valuable to the juggernauts of Japan and China, second tier countries like Thailand and Vietnam, and the developing Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and Iraq.

Of particular interest to us in Australia were the presentations from Germany, USA, Japan and the World Cup Technical Study Group.

The German presentation was mind-blowing. Although most of their initiatives are beyond our resources, there was one aspect of their philosophy we could imitate: the synergy between men-s and women-s football.

Essentially every program, event, promotion or advertisement on football automatically includes men and women, boys and girls. It-s a simple, inexpensive, yet effective message that illustrates football is a sport for everyone regardless of gender; frankly, something we could easily do much better.

The USA shares some similar problems with us here in Australia. The size of their country, their penchant for results ahead of development at youth level, and the lack of an ingrained football culture all provide some challenges; however, they also have over two million youth players to choose from, significant funding, a full-time professional league and two semi-professional leagues, and women-s football programs in every college in the country.

Japan highlighted how the programs they initiated in 2006, with the focus on technical development (much of it based on the French Clairefontaine system), are now reaping dividends. They are currently in the process of expanding and refining these programs. Their system essentially works through sports high schools, with players relocating to these specialist schools.

The World Cup Technical Study Group confirmed the 2011 World Cup was technically and tactically the best in the event-s history. The quality of football, individual skills on display, and the tactical sophistication of the teams surpassed everyone-s expectations. Physical differences were no longer the deciding factor in matches. Japan and France were seen as the standout teams, and many of our players were commended for their technical skills and for the quality of football they produced.

Another significant factor to emerge from the seminar is that, with the World Cup numbers increasing from 16 to 24 in 2015, Asia will be allocated at least one more spot.

Given that North Korea is disqualified from participating in the tournament, either one of the second tier East Asian countries or an ambitious West Asian country will qualify for 2015. This provides a great incentive for countries to initiate a serious program.

The most striking image for me at the seminar was the passion and love for the game displayed by the female coaches and managers from West Asia. These traits were especially prominent when discussing the issue of the hijab.

The present FIFA stance of not allowing players to wear this headwear severely restricts players and countries from competing. I personally believe we should be giving every encouragement and support for girls from all countries, backgrounds and beliefs to put on football boots and play. I trust common sense will prevail and an agreement will be reached that will allow women-s football to develop and flourish throughout the Middle East.

These seminars can often be self-serving, irrelevant talkfests; however, these three days were informative, valuable, worthwhile, inspirational, and provided much food for thought. Well done FIFA and AFC.