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Circa 1980


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It's the 1980s: across the country our best women are playing women's amateur in city leagues. Practices are once or twice a week and the level of play and opponents are random and chaotic.

Fast-forward 30-some years to 2012. Women's soccer has exploded in every corner of the planet. Even in places like Iran where you have to wear a snuggie and get called a whore, the game thrives. Virtually every country in the top 50 has a national women's league that allows women to compete with each other in a serious manner and is the breeding ground for their national programs. Most of the top 20 countries in the world have league infrastructure that is quite advanced and well-developed. Sponsors, organizational systems and a legacy footprint.

Most offer little to no money, the fan support is scarce and the media support is non-existent. And yet it keeps exploding. And it's no mystery why - because women are starved for serious professional training environments. Money is steps down on Maslow's hierarchy of women's soccer. The top tiers are professionalism and respect. Satisfy them and women will be all-in heart and soul. That's the engine of the growth of national leagues around the world.

There are of course lots of semi-professional leagues for women in places like Europe and Asia, but money is misdirection. The real movement is not countries launching national semi or professional leagues, it's countries launching national leagues with professionally-run programs. The vast majority offer little or no pay. But again, the point is they're thriving because they're focused on developing and generating opportunity.

The two highest women's leagues in the country are the W and the CIS. Both are very good levels of play that you couldn't find in the 80s. There are many great programs in both and we're very fortunate to have them, but they have definite limitations:

1. Both are eight week seasons

2. Both are essentially student leagues

There's also a very good argument the genesis and development of both advancements came from bodies and groups outside our national association.

The past three decades have seen exponential growth in terms of countries around the world creating opportunities and seeding professionally run programs for women. Outside of the two brief competitions above, what have we provided women in return for their massive rate of adoption of the game?

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Not to downplay the importance of a professional atmosphere for the Women's game in Canada, but we're struggling with the notion of a Men's national league in this country. I hate to say it, but our backs are up against the wall when it comes to the pro game here.

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Technically we have two levels of play for men: four professional teams and beyond that a semi-pro league that services 20 million people including three of the four largest metropolitan areas in the country and and 10 of the top 16.

Un-technically the question was "what have we provided women in return for their massive rate of adoption of the game?" Which isn't tied to a national league and has little relationship to the men's pro game (or even men).

Thirty years ago the women's national team was essentially a weekend at camp and a bag of balls. For the past decade that's been transformed into a state of the art program that's the envy of almost every country in the world.

In the early 80s this was essentially a blank grid:


That link includes countries and associations of all sizes, shapes, funding, politics and religion. Women's soccer isn't biotech, you don't go into it to make a quick million. It's not market-driven. All those entries are solutions that come from the commitment and investment of time and energy by national organizations to create positive growth opportunities and infrastructure for their women.

We are seen and see ourselves as global leaders in the women's game. The question is beyond the veneer of 18 women - what has changed in 30 years?

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I do not understand why women's soccer insists on being a professional sport (where the players get paid) right from the get go. It does not matter whether the women are deemed to be world-class athletes or not, they need to build up a paying fans base, which takes years to develop, before they can even think of starting to draw salaries. There just are not enough women, who are willing to go out every second week and buy a ticket to see a women's club match. Sure, tickets sell by the 1000's when there are international matches with Olympic and World Cup honours a stake, but other than those matches the women's game has no drawing power, unless you'd put them in dental-floss bikinis like they do for beach volleyball and in that case your exploiting their sexuality and not their level of skill.

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I would think the best employment opportunity for the women's national team participants would be to be coaches either at Canadian Universities or at NCAA institutions, especially if the attended University in the states. It might mean starting as an assistant coach for a few years and gradually working your way up the coaching ladder.

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I do not understand why women's soccer insists on being a professional sport (where the players get paid) right from the get go.

Very few countries in the world use that model. Women don't demand being professionals. They demand professional training environments.

I just read something quite interesting which wasn't reported in the media last week

Some of the greats of CONCACAF women’s football were in attendance last week as Vancouver hosted the FIFA/CONCACAF Conference on the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011. The third in a series of FIFA conferences, following on from those already conducted in Johannesburg and Kuala Lumpur, proved highly successful and was aimed at passing on the expertise acquired at Germany 2011. Representatives from world champions Japan shared their ideas and vision for future success. Just some of their other high profile attendees were France coach Bruno Bini, 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning coach Even Pellerud and USA’s former champion April Heinrichs.

Second and more relevant, below are some of the lead points of FIFA's recently released 2012-2015 Women's Football Development Programme Guidelines.

Goals and Objectives

- a structure and infrastructure supporting women's football in the member associations

- increasing the number of female players involved from grassroots to elite level

- increasing the number of competitions at national, regional and the continental level

- improving the quality of the game through educating more female coaches, referees and officials

- increasing involvement of former female players as administrators and leaders

- increasing awareness and media coverage

- garnering support form all stakeholders including government, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and the media

How Can This Be Achieved

- strengthen, asses and continually review the structure supporting women's football

- develop a women's football committee and department empowered and equipped by the member association's leadership

- include girls in grassroots programmes from as early as six years old

- introduce and optimise women's football competitions from grassroots to elite level

- actively engage with the media regarding women's football

The competitions section of the guidelines is competitions:

Programme Guidelines/Objectives

- to offer the possibility to FIFA member associations to develop women's football competitions and leagues at the national level

- to ensure female player development and increase the number of women's football leagues initiated around the world

- to assist in the education of coaches, referees and administrators in national women's competitions

- to impact the quality of women's competitions at national, confederation and FIFA level


And to bring it all home is a quote this past week from Steffi Jones:

We need club competitions at the highest level, such as the UEFA Women's Champions League, to further develop the women's game around Europe.

Repeat: we need club competitions at the highest level - to further develop the women's game.

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I noticed someone's tweet this morning: "CanWNT has a bright future #canw17 ties Germany 0-0 in Florida today"

You mean like in 2004 when we beat them 5-1 and 2-0 at U15? And most of the players disappeared off the face of the earth and moved on because there were no full-time senior programs for them to target and be groomed into?

What's different now?

They say on the men's side we are as good anyone up to about age 10 or 11. On the women's side it's probably the mid-teens.

After that the lack of senior opportunities begins to cast it's stifling and suffocating shadow.

We seem to have made good progress towards this on the men's side. On the women's side we're stuck in the 80's.

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