Across the world women’s football has been on the rise. The 2019 world cup in France placed the sport on a platform it’s never been before. With a combined 1.12 billion viewers, the women’s game is in the public eye now more than ever. Fifa is aiming for 60 million women’s footballers by 2026, doubling the current number of active players. According to it’s 2019 Review and analysis of football Ireland the FAI are working towards a 7 year goal for Irish football. But for Ireland to reach a result at anywhere near that scale, a massive increase in investment would be needed. There are currently over 19,000 female youth players but only 4,800 in the adult leagues, according to the FAI. But the development of the senior league has been hindered including only 8 teams from 6 different counties.
So what’s the next step for the Irish national league? Retired Irish international Karen Duggan sees setting up a proper women’s national league, like the SSE Airtricity league, as a no brainer. But points out that a successful national league can’t just appear out of nothing.
“It really does need to become someones agenda, someone needs to take it by the scruff of the neck and just run with it”.
Former manager of the Republic of Irelands women’s team Colin Bell claims he had the solution to the sports problem.
“The FAI have to make sure the women’s game continues to grow and I think my plan would’ve helped. The women’s national team has come on in leaps and bounds, but still, I was a little bit frustrated that work on the actual structures of underage football and the women’s national league was going too slow and I think I had a good plan in place to improve that”
So what do the FAI need to continue the progression of the game here? A massive problem for girls growing up with a keen interest in soccer is the unavoidable choice to be made by promising young women’s soccer players. The sport is so under-resourced around the country your options are to ” either go to Dublin to play or quit” according to Emma Duffy of The42.ie. Duffy, like many of her peers, ended up committing to ladies Gaelic football toward the end of her underage playing career. More investment needs to be placed in women’s football to create a competitive national league with feeder clubs from each county in Ireland.
But with growing interest in the game there seems to be very few options for young women aspiring to make it big. In my experience I’ve seen situations where clubs have men’s teams at every age group but only one women’s. How can the game be expected to grow if clubs refuse to put the resources to use? I’ve seen it happen for GAA clubs, so why not for soccer? Young girls deserve the opportunity start playing football at the same age, and the chance to progress up through the age groups as boys.
What else can be done?
Women face an uphill struggle to even get, never mind maintain a career in football. It is important that the FAI explore ways to improve and stabilise the conditions for female footballers. They should be given the resources that will enable them to flourish on and off the pitch, alongside their male counterparts. While women’s football is clearly on the up, it is clear the game still has a long way to go. Women’s football has to be taken seriously for this to happen to ensure women can enjoy the same options men do as they pursue their careers as professional footballers.