Why is Europe Dominating Women’s Football?

A debatable penalty sealed the fate for the non-European world. Or the non-western world, including the United States. Out of the eight quarter finalists, 7 derive from Europe and the last are the US. Team captain Saki Kumagai didn’t think about the legitimacy of the penalty to much: “It had my hand for sure,” Kumagai said. “It’s difficult to accept but it’s also sad. I know that is football.”

What does this tell us about women’s football? Is this just a coincidence or are the European countries structurally walking away from the rest of the world? We first compare the results to earlier editions of the Women’s World Cup and thereafter see if anything has changed in the policy of countries and clubs.

Women’s World Cup 2015

2015 saw a bit stronger appearance of Asia with China in the quarter finals and Japan reaching the finals. Also notable are Australia in the quarter finals that come from the south-east region and Canada making it to the quarter finals. These are still considered ‘western’ nations, but non-European nonetheless. The tournament of 2011 was played with only 16 countries, of which 5 come from Europe. The finals was the same as that in 2015, with Japan and the United States. Only this time it was Japan who took the title after penalties.
Looking at the numbers:

  • 50% of the 2011 quarter finalists were European
  • 37,5% of the 2015 quarter finalists were European
  • 87,5% of the 2019 quarter finalists were European

The percentage of 2019 is that of 2015 and 2011 combined! So, what happened since 2015?

Europe’s rise to fame

Actually, women’s football in Europe took storm after 2011. Mainly due to policy of the UEFA (and FIFA; according to many, Blatter might have done some horrible things in his career but he did do a lot for the emancipation of women in football). The number of youth leagues (under-6 to under-23) has grown from 164 to 266 between 2012/13 and 2016/17. he number of professional and semi-professional players is also growing, from 1,303 in 2012/13 to 2,853 in 2016/17. the number of national teams in Europe, including youth teams, has risen from 173 in 2012/13 to 233 in 2016/17. There are now 17,553 qualified female coaches in Europe’s national associations. Long story short; UEFA is really pushing women’s football. Success has them wanting even more, so for the years to come chances are Europe keeps dominating the world scene, unless other federations pick up the pace.

The future of women’s football in Europe

In 2010, the UEFA launched the women’s football development programme (also known as WFDP). During a meeting in Prague in December 2010, the UEFA Executive Committee agreed that there had to a plan to channel the huge growth of interest from girls and women in football. The plan was set for a six year support program, but six year later in 2016, the need to channel the popularity was more urgent than ever.

The WDFP supports the expansion of football among women on all levels. In close association with the national federations, the ambitions and needs are carefully woven together across the continent. With the women currently playing on the highest level (club and nation), they are increasingly becoming role models for young girls and are becoming commercially interesting. And that is probably the tipping point. Because once that happens, companies are taking over the supporting role and they do so with large sums of cash.

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