FIFA's chief women football officer: Want to see both men, women involved in U-17 World Cup

FIFA chief women's football officer Sarai Bareman in an interview with Sportstar spoke about the potential impact the U-17 Women's World Cup will have on India.

FIFA chief women's football officer Sarai Bareman is in India for U-17 women's world cup emblem launch.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

It’s been a couple of years since India hosted its first-ever FIFA U-17 men’s World Cup. The success of the tournament has helped the country bag another FIFA event -- the U-17 Women’s World Cup, which will be held next year.

And as the organisers gear up for the mega tournament, FIFA’s chief women football officer, Sarai Bareman, is confident that India will deliver another good show. “India set the bar very high in 2017,” she says.

In the city for the tournament’s emblem launch on Saturday, Bareman spoke to Sportstar on a range of issues…

This will be the second FIFA World Cup event for India. What are your thoughts?

India set the bar very high in 2017 when they hosted the biggest ever youth World Cup (men’s U-17 World Cup) in the history of FIFA. We are looking to see the same level of enthusiasm. The Local Organising Committee (LOC) is very well organised, professional and well established and they have high level of professionalism, which is very important in delivering a World Cup. The key is that we want to see in the stadiums and the people involved in the tournament to be both men and women, and boys and girls. It should not be seen as something that since it’s the womens World Cup, it's only for women. We want to see fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters and the men who are alongside women in the families, to support womens football like the way they support the men’s game. It's much more than what happens on the pitch and it's about the impact it has on the society.

When the U-17 men’s World Cup was awarded to India in 2017, the announcement was made much earlier. But for the Women’s U-17 World Cup, India was given the hosting rights barely a year before the tournament. Why is it so? And what are the challenges at the moment?

With respect to the preparations, we really do not have any concerns as we know this country has done a very good job of hosting (the U-17 men’s World Cup). We have utmost confidence on the local organising committee’s abilities and also the support from the government here is really unmatched. They are very enthusiastic.

All the normal infrastructural things -- the readiness of the stadium, the pitches, the training fields, the facilities the teams are using -- for me, I think more than what happens to the tournament, which kicks off in one years’ time, is [important than] what happens after the tournament. We have to see what impact we get and how many more girls are playing football, how do we increase the popularity of the sport after the tournament and how do we make sure that the splash that we make from here has a sustainable impact for the women and girls in the country.

 

Let’s talk a bit about senior international football. The women’s World Cup in France this year, had a huge viewership. How much of a growth have you seen, not just at the international level but also at the grass-root level?

The incredible thing about working in women’s football is how fast the landscape is evolving. Even when I arrived at FIFA, you could say that it was not really a sport that was a priority and popular in many regions of the world. And in just a short amount of time we have seen it grow exponentially. Before the World Cup in France, we started to see around the world, record crowds filling stadiums for women’s league matches and the momentum has just been continuing. For us the women’s World Cup is the second biggest female sporting event in the world. It is the second biggest event within FIFA and I think this 2019 edition has really marked the before and after for women's football.

For FIFA, what is the priority -- more crowd at the stadium or a higher viewership via television or other mediums? What are you looking at?

For us, it is the combination of both. We cannot prioritise one over the other. It's one thing to have one billion viewers watching the game and many viewers around the world watching it. But if they are looking into an empty stadium with no atmosphere, it doesn't support our product. At the same time, as a fan, when you go for the game, especially when women's football is a relatively new sport for so many of our fans and we are trying to attract new fans -- we need to be sure that when they arrive in the stadium, it's not only the football on the pitch that catches their attention, but it's also the atmosphere, the crowd. That’s something I am sure we will see here next year.

You spoke about the development of the game even after the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Does FIFA have any particular plans to grow the game in this part of the world?

We want to increase the number of women or girls playing the game. We have an ambitious target of 60 million in the world by 2026. India has a huge opportunity, and we would like to work in the schools. Football is a fantastic educational tool. Everybody loves playing the game. It’s an amazing way to spread important messages to young children. So, in India, it is important that we take advantage of the network -- through the school system and also through the state associations.

You spoke about uniformity. But there is discontent among women footballers over the disparity in payments and prize money. How do you plan to address the issue?

In terms of equality, the best thing about football is that it provides a platform for those discussions to take place and what we saw in France (women’s World Cup in June) was incredible football on the field and also we saw many discussions taking place around the women in society and equal pay. It’s fantastic that football can provide that platform and we are confident that in India next year, we will see the platform being used to generate this kind of discussions. That should happen.

After the women’s U-17 World Cup, what impact do you hope to see in Indian football?

We will see a lot more participation. There will be many more women and girls playing football. We will also see an increase in level of the game. The Indian women’s team is ranked high and we will only see a rise from here. As we see more girls playing, it will make a much bigger foundation of players and there will be a much bigger pool for elite level. The ranking and position of Indian football will only increase.

Leading up to the tournament next year, do you plan to involve iconic players?

We have a very special guest here today (Kristine Lilly). She is already an icon and is excited about what’s going to happen here next year and of course, in the build-up, we will have more stars involved, but not only women. We also need men players. It is an important message that we need to sound is that, male players can be big champions and components for women’s football as well.

Lastly, with a year left for the tournament, what will your message be for the Indian fans to come and watch the games?

If the Indians want to see exciting and electric football taking place with some of the best young athletes in the world, the future stars of the women's game, this is the opportunity they cannot miss.

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