Cover Feature: How do we grow women’s football sustainably

This article first featured in Edition #12 of the RMD magazine (March 8, 2020)

Women’s football isn’t just some kind of novelty item. It’s here to stick around, has some extremely talented footballers plying their trade within the game and is on the cusp of real global development and adoption.

There are always going to be naysayers and outdated views towards the women’s game, right up until these viewpoints cycle themselves out of society. However, for the rest of the footballing community, who are ready to rally behind the female game and support it as it should be, how do we ensure that the game is brought up to the best possible level quickly but sustainably?

Men’s football has taken more than 100 years of development, funding and growth to reach where it is now. We don’t want the women’s game to have to go through such a lengthy pathway. But, it is also a far more complex issue than some would have you think and one that cannot simply be solved by throwing money at the problem and forcing the women’s game down the throats of supporters of their male counterparts.

There still needs to be that natural growth and progression. One of the biggest issues that remains for women’s football to become as mainstream and well-supported as the male game is the quality of players involved. Based on where it is now, compared with even just a decade ago, the progression and development of young female talent is happening at blistering, almost frightening pace.

However, despite how technically gifted and tactically astute the new generation of young female players are, there is still difficulties around matching the same kind of physicality as the male game.

Now, there are biological differences between men and women, and as such the female game will always reflect a different style of play to its counterpart, but stamina, speed and agility are still key elements of the game. Particularly in defence and goalkeeping, these remain areas that the women’s game is trying its hardest to develop around and improve upon, but it will take time. These aren’t traits that can be taught in a couple of months on a training pitch; these are inherent, core aspects to each player’s game which need taught from the very beginning.

That means players will take time to become faster, stronger, more agile. As each new generation of female players come to the forefront of the game, we will witness the benefits of this development.

Already we can see the improvement from just 10 years earlier. That’s so key in this because it is the proven case study justifying this methodology.

Commercial benefits must also keep up with the game, but again must be done in such a way as to remain sustainable. The women’s game is growing, as is the interest from supporters to engage with it.

We need to nurture that interest and let it grow and blossom if we want the longest-term, most viable financial revenue to enter the women’s game. Simply mandating advertisers also cover women’s football, or trying to force it down the mainstream consumer channels would likely see a dramatic initial boost, but at significant cost. Both the reputation and progress already made would be tarnished, while potential new fanbases who are maybe beginning to have thoughts of coming over to the women’s game might well be turned off to the concept too.

Fans and advertisers alike need to come around to the idea themselves, even if this takes longer. If they feel it’s their own idea to convert, rather than being thrust upon them by outside forces, then they’ll stick around for the ride rather than simply dipping in and out when they please. That keeps the money in the game, which is crucial for sustainable development.

Women’s football isn’t going to become another world sporting goliath overnight, but with the right attitude and approach there is no reason we can’t accelerate the process without simultaneously damaging the future sustainability of the sport.

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