Bedeviled by gender inequality for long, world football’s governing body FIFA aims to kick out for good, the ugly side of the ‘beautiful game’.
It’s been almost a year since years of patriarchy had been broken at FIFA with the appointment of Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura as its Secretary General, a move that had been hailed as groundbreaking.
“Over the past few years FIFA has put in a lot of efforts into developing women’s football and promoting gender equality. Our aim is to break down the gender barriers in football,” Marion Mayer-Vorfelder, FIFA’s head of events –U-17 World Cup –, told PTI in an interview.
The influential sports body is lending a helping hand towards the growth of the women’s game in India.
“They (AIFF) have been implementing FIFA’s ‘Live Your Goals’ campaign for three years now and have reached out to thousands of female players.
“FIFA and the AIFF have also worked on capacity building to improve the level of the game, by organising coaching –courses for coaches in women’s football. In addition, the recently-launched women’s league will be partially financed by FIFA forward funding over the next three years.”
The German was in India to inspect the preparedness of the venues, chosen to host matches in the U-17 World Cup, and although an age-group event for boys only, she believed it plays an important role in achieving their objective.
“In 2015, FIFA launched the Female Leadership Development programme to identify, support and develop strong female leaders and role models in football, while advocating for women to access senior decision-making positions all over the world.
“The AIFF’s women’s football manager Indu Choudhary was part of the first edition of the programme that graduated in March 2016 in Amsterdam.”
To name just a few issues, the women are behind their male counterparts in terms of funding, media hype and crowd turnout.
“There is still room for further improvement but providing opportunities for women and girls in football is one of FIFA’s main development priorities and has been a key part of FIFA’s reforms.
“Women within FIFA have always been involved in important projects and even more so now with our SG, who is a woman and a great supporter of gender equality.”
Stating that the women’s game has “definitely taken a huge step forward”, Marion said her gender does not come in the way of her work at FIFA.
“Honestly, my gender is not related to any of the challenges I face. At FIFA the most difficult part is to keep up with time lines and schedules; any delay can have a big impact on deliverables.”
Alongside the U-17 World Cup’s Local Organising Committee (LOC), FIFA is trying to promote the game in India, travelling to its deep interiors.
“Football is not the number one sport in India… together with the LOC, we are therefore putting in a lot of effort into promoting the tournament and into taking the beautiful game to every corner of this fascinating country.
“The FIFA U-17 World Cup will leave a positive legacy for football in India and we hope to inspire more young people to play football in India in future.”
Considering the size of the country, it has been a logistical challenge, which has been managed well till now.
Marion said, “Well, India is an enormous country and it’s almost like a continent in itself. We have six venues, hence there are six state governments and stakeholders to deal with as well.
“Every part of the country is diverse and different, which is what makes the country beautiful, but yes, it also brings its own sets of challenges.
“However, the experience has been largely positive so far and with less than 200 days to go, we are confident things will only get better!”
Hosting a tournament of this magnitude, which has given the world the likes of Ronaldinho, Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano, Xavi, Francesco Totti, Iker Casillas and Mario Götze, it will be a “great opportunity” for India to improve.
“The FIFA U-17 World Cup is an important platform for football development. The competition showcases the footballing talent of the future and is a big stepping stone for young players.
“I have conducted several inspections and have experienced first-hand the enthusiasm and dedication around the event here in India.
“I am convinced that the first FIFA tournament to be held in India will be a great success and will help to engage the whole country in football.”