Two-time World Cup-winning coach Jill Ellis proposed a biennial women’s World Cup and an expanded international match calendar as part of reforms to develop the future of the women’s game. Ellis, who is leading FIFA’s Technical Advisory Group, also said football at the Olympics should be extended beyond a competition of 12 teams.
In recent months, FIFA, led by its Global Football Development head Arsene Wenger, has submitted similar revamp proposals for the men’s international game, which have been met with opposition within the football community, including the confederations, UEFA and CONMEBOL.
The Technical Advisory Group for women’s football – which comprises players, coaches and other key stakeholders from across football – was created to lead the process on the future of the women’s game and its international match calendar. Ellis said that the biennial women’s World Cup will ultimately be decided by vote while adding that the World Cup acts as a catalyst in raising the profile and creating new avenues within the women’s game.
“We’ve had great conversations and people presenting their ideas. I can’t say this is a foregone conclusion. I’ve told people that I need you to passionately discuss through your perspective and experiences, but then I also ask them to appreciate other points of view. I’ve had current players say “I never would have thought of that, I hadn’t really thought about how the rest of the world was going through their qualifiers. There are so many positives that come from a World Cup. This is a democracy, this is going to go to a vote ultimately,” said the 55-year-old, while speaking at a media interaction.
Ellis stressed the need to make recommendations and arguments specific to the women’s game and not the men’s while looking to restructure the women’s calendar.
“We are looking at volume and we can’t have the same argument as men’s football. We did a study, where we took a French international player from the men’s and the women’s game, who plays in the domestic league, and the result is that the men’s player plays 30 more games than the woman in a season. Our arguments need to be specific to our sport and our challenges,” she said.
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Ellis put forward the idea of increasing the number of international windows from three to five. “A lot of people haven’t seen the five-window calendar. We are taking this idea to a broader audience to digest. The calendar as it has existed for the women’s game wasn’t going to be optimal. We have rapidly built this model flow through this consultation group and people need to digest this and give us feedback.
“In terms of the calendar, there has to be a give and take. People are going to fight for their positions, which I respect, but my charge is to look at everyone seated at the table. At this point, we are only taking recommendations forward on the expanded window,” said the English-born American coach.
In a statement last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sought discussions surrounding the biennial World Cup plans, while pointing out that women’s football would suffer from staging annual men’s tournaments.
In response to the statement, Ellis said, “I am not a political animal but if we really care about the women’s game then making it a tournament [Olympics] more than 12 nations. If we want to raise the profile, we need to have more teams participate and have access to participate. I look at it as a player and a coach, and I want it to go big. On this occasion, I feel more access for every little girl to play this game and more visibility for the players to have a voice and get what they deserve, I don’t see it as a negative. Having 12 teams [in the Olympics], I think that’s not showcasing our game to the level I think it could. I love the Olympics, I just think it’s very limited in how many teams can access the tournament.”
She added, “Olympics holds a special place but we need to recognise it has only three European teams and because of the size of the tournament, it doesn’t open it up to a lot of people to experience that. I don’t think there is a potential for it to expand with it being part of a major event like the Olympics. I am more focused on what we can control within FIFA and make recommendations. I would love to see more European teams in it.”