Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Women’s Football: The Need for Inclusion and Investment

In this article, we explore the reasons why women's football is under-represented and under-resourced, as well as what can be done to tackle these issues.

Many arguments could be used to build the case for FIFA to include more women in its governance arrangements.

Whilst we have seen that women have played a significant role in the global game of football for some time now and the number of women playing the sport continue to grow, any argue that more needs to be done to ensure women are adequately represented in leadership positions in the sport. The arguments below are just some of the many put forward supporting the need for change to ensure the adequate inclusion of women at all levels of the game.

FIFA, football and women: Why reform must specify inclusion and investment

Under pressure from authorities, commercial partners and stakeholders across the football sporting sector, FIFA is in need of imminent change. The opportunity to reform and produce a more equitable governance structure exists now.

Key facts at November 2015

  • 111 years after FIFA was formed, women are still vastly under-represented at every level of the pyramid in the world game.
  • The European Commission recently called for minimum 30% gender representation in international sports governing bodies and 40% in national sports governing bodies, with a minimum 40% in management.
  • FIFA Women’s Football Survey 2014 shows CONMEBOL (2%) and UEFA (6%) have the lowest % of women on Executive Committees of member associations.
  • FIFA’s first women’s football tournament was held in 1988; the first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in 1991; and women’s football was first played in the Olympics in 1996.
  • Currently, FIFA still holds only men’s competitions in club football, futsal, and beach soccer.
  • In March 2015, FIFA signed the Brighton + Helsinki Declaration, affirming the organization’s commitment to gender equality.
  • McKinsey measured the “organizational excellence” of companies in Europe, North America, and Asia by evaluating them on nine organizational criteria. When they examined the senior management teams of these companies, they found that those with three or more women had higher scores, on average, than teams with no women. McKinsey found that the score increased significantly once critical mass was reached – about one-third women (Women Matter: A Corporate Performance Driver, McKinsey 2007.

A report by Football Australia, which was submitted to the Chair of the FIFA Reform Committee, laid out the case for creating a more inclusive sport for women as part of the reform process. Below is a collection of some of their main points. The full document is available here.

What is the problem?

  • Football today is overwhelmingly male – not because women and girls are inherently disinterested but rather due to decades of institutional and social barriers that prevent them from playing. When girls don’t play, women’s equity in leadership in technical, administration and governance remains under-realised.
  • Too few decision makers in football appreciate the nature and scale of the issue.
  • At the 2015 FIFA women’s football symposium, delegates from 171 member associations presented calls for reform that would fundamentally alter football’s profile.
  • Given that women constitute an enormous opportunity for football, such measures would serve FIFA’s objectives.

Women are under-represented in decision-making

Women comprise only 8% of ExCo members globally. At Confederation level, only eight women hold ExCo positions, and some Confederations have none. Within FIFA itself, there are three women out of 26 ExCo members; the Standing Committees contain hardly any women (outside the women’s football committees) and only one Director is female. Globally, just two of 209 Member Association Presidents are women – less than 1% of the voting population in FIFA Congress – and in the majority of Confederations there are none at all.

Only 7% of registered coaches are female, and they battle a “grass ceiling” despite their qualifications and disproportionate success.

It is not only football that has disproportionately low female participation in decision-making: it is a pattern in society generally. Improving this ratio is now recognised as a major driver of social and corporate value. A large body of emerging research shows materially positive effects of gender balancing, such as:

  • 26% better share price, where at least one women is on the board.
  • 56% better EBIT and 41% better return on investment than that achieved by all-male executive committees.
  • reduced severity and frequency of fraud.

Women’s football is under-resourced

Even though FIFA outlaws discrimination, it is still the case that many girls grow into women without having the chance to play in a team or know how it feels to score a goal. Those who do get fewer opportunities, fewer competitions, reduced support and diminished rewards compared to their male peers, largely because historical, social and institutional bans have delayed competitions and affected development.

Barely 40% of member associations offer girls grassroots programs and all around the world, competitions and playing pathways are more limited. Even in FIFA itself, development funds dedicated to women’s football amount to only a modest share of the total.

Football’s stated ideal of ‘no discrimination’ has not yet translated into the active provision of equal opportunities for girls and women to participate in football. As the biggest and most popular sport in the world, football is well-placed to invest in its largest, least-developed “greenfields” opportunity – the women’s game. The impact would be transformative. With fair and proportionate resourcing, football can become the leading sport for women in the world – as it deserves to be, and as it already is for men.

Why is this a matter for the FIFA Reform Committee?

FIFA needs to rehabilitate its own image, and the image of football. Addressing gender imbalance is a visible and convincing means to demonstrate that this Reform Committee, FIFA and football are prepared to lead rather than lag society, and be a vehicle for progress. It will build FIFA’s equity among the stakeholders of today and tomorrow, recognizing the fundamental shift in society’s expectations, and this will contribute enormously to rebuilding the credibility of FIFA, and football, in the eyes of the watching world.

Better gender balance of itself will deliver improvements in critical aspects of football’s governance by creating a better, more diverse decision-making environment and a culture that is less prone to corruption. FIFA urgently needs both, and has been pressed by, and made promises to, various bodies.

  • In March 2015, FIFA signed the Brighton + Helsinki Declaration, affirming the organization’s commitment to gender equality. In pursuance of that commitment, FIFA should increase equality measures within its own governance systems.
  • It has also been called upon by the European Commission to ensure better gender balance in decision-making, as well as members of the US Congress.
  • FIFA has been urged to act by stakeholders within FIFA, including the Women’s Football Symposium in July 2015 and the Task Force for Women’s Football in August 2015.


Inclusion in decision-making

The Reform Committee is respectfully requested to recommend an immediate 20% presence of women on the FIFA Executive Committee, to be mirrored within a reasonable time at all levels (Confederations, MAs, clubs, etc) with a longer-term target of 30% gender balance.

Investment in the women’s game

The Reform Committee is respectfully requested to recommend an immediate requirement for all football stakeholders (including governing bodies and clubs) to actively resource participation opportunities for women and girls at all levels, without gender discrimination in fair financial proportion to its female participation and potential.

2016 Reforms

The new reforms introduced in 2016 aimed to give greater recognition and promotion of women in football. Each football confederation has to, as a minimum, elect one female council member per federation.

This article is from the free online

Football: More than a Game

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education