Europe's smaller national football associations are striving to develop their women's football sectors – and UEFA's new Together #WePlayStrong campaign will be an important catalyst in their work.
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UEFA's new Together #WePlayStrong women's football campaign is set to lend fresh impetus to Europe's smaller national associations in their efforts to get more women and girls involved in the game.
A UEFA women's football development workshop in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, brought the European body together with the associations of Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg, Malta and San Marino to discuss challenges faced by smaller FAs in promoting and developing their women's football sectors.
The workshop was held under the auspices of the UEFA KISS programme fostering sharing of expertise and information among European FAs.
It came at an opportune moment with this month's launch of UEFA's ambitious new campaign, aimed at changing attitudes towards women's football and increasing participation, in particular among young girls.
Lack of media exposure and cultural barriers were identified in Pristina as important issues in relation to participation.
Consequently, it was agreed that Together #WePlayStrong would be a crucial factor in changing the image of women's football – an objective identified as a priority by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin.
Each association presented and shared its work and experiences in establishing women's programmes and structures, as well as setting up domestic competition formats. They also showed how they were making positive use of earmarked funding from the UEFA Women's Football Development Programme.
Sue Ronan, head of women's football at the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), came to Kosovo to give an example of a successful programme which has boosted participation in the Republic of Ireland – the impressive Soccer Sisters initiative.
The associations expressed concern at a lack of opportunity for their women's national teams to play international matches if they did not qualify for major tournaments. More friendly matches and small friendly-match tournaments are seen as the way forward in creating match-practice opportunities.
UEFA pledged to work together with the smaller associations on examining possibilities of dedicated funding through the European Union.
The associations also stressed that generating the resources to recruit dedicated full-time staff working on women's football was a major priority in the coming years.
Participants gathered worthwhile insights from the workshop:
Eroll Salihu – Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) general secretary
One of the FFK's priorities is to increase the participation of women and young girls in football, and to raise awareness of girls' football in schools with the aim of recruiting talented young girls for organised football.
Pætur Smith Clementsen - Faroe Islands Football Association (FSF) technical director
We gained an insight into how things are done in countries with similar preconditions as ourselves. Then we thought: 'If they can do it, so can we.'
Eleni Tymviou - women’s football department, Cyprus Football Association (CFA)
The opportunity that we had to work together will help us to make a new beginning, and organise new actions in the future.
Lynette Alvarez, head of women’s football development, Gibraltar Football Association (GFA)
[The workshop] has helped towards gaining some very useful ideas.