The situation on the touchlines, however, is more complicated with the issue of the lack of women coaches again coming up as a talking point.
Only nine of the 24 nations participating in this year’s competition are managed by women coaches (37.5%). 15 of the coaches are male.
This number shows slight progress from the last Women’s World Cup at which only 33% of coaches in charge of participating nations at the tournament were women. But when the number of male coaches at a Women’s World Cup is more than 60%, there is a problem.
In FIFA’s global strategy for women’s football, released last year, it announced plans to double the number of female players to 60 million by 2026 and ensure all member associations have developed “comprehensive women’s football strategies” by 2022. This drive is having an impact, recent strategies from UEFA and CONCACAF at confederation level set out a clear direction of travel for them.
Creating gender balance in leadership was named by FIFA as one of the key aims of its new strategy.
Across England, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, the percentage of women holding the A licence coaching qualification is less than 2% of all licence holders. In Spain less than 0.5% of all A licence holders are women. In England only 41 women were in possession of a Uefa A coaching licence in 2017, compared to 1,672 male coaches holding an A licence.
It shows a clear imbalance that needs addressing, but how has this come about? And, given the ever so slight progress in the number of World Cup coaches, should we be satisfied by gradual change?
“Absolutely not!” says Vicky Huyton of the Female Coaching Network, an organisation that works to create opportunities for female sport coaches around the world.
“Why is this acceptable to anyone? Could you ever see this happening in the men’s game – only 9 male coaches out of 24 at a World Cup? Whilst there are of course more qualified, experienced male coaches to choose from (which is also an issue), there are a number of incredibly talented, experienced women coaches out there who should have these roles but are not given the opportunity.”
Old boy’s club
Lack of opportunities, role models and representation are all issues blocking the pathway for women to get into high-level coaching positions. There is also a need for more and better training opportunities, to make sure that coaching education for women is of a high enough standard. There is also an issue with those doing the hiring.
“Ultimately the reason for a lack of women having the top jobs is because the people hiring for these jobs tend to hire in their own image – hence a lack of diversity in the men’s and women’s game.
“The aim is to ensure the same opportunities are present for both men and women in both the men’s and women’s game, but it seems to be one rule for one and not the other. Should every coach in the men’s game be a man? No. Should every coach in the women’s game be a woman? No. Both sides of the game should be open to the best coach. That, at the moment, is not the case.”
FIFA created a coaches mentorship programme in 2018, with its inaugural meeting held in Zurich last October. Emerging women coaches were paired with experienced coaching mentors, the aim of the programme being to help women coaches acquire new knowledge, skills and experience.
“Women are very important to the future of football not just on the pitch but on the touchline too,” Aimé Jacquet, a World Cup winning coach with France, once said. “Women have have a very important role to play as educators for young players, bringing a different philosophy and psychology.”
Perhaps a figure of 37.5% representation can be looked upon as a small improvement. At the 1995 Women’s World Cup the percentage of women coaches at the tournament was just 6%. But according to Huyton, far more needs to be done.
“When you consider the lack of opportunities for women moving from Level 2 [coaching badges] up to UEFA Pro, and then the lack of opportunities and equality for women getting those jobs once they have UEFA A / Pro or equivalent qualifications, it’s not great progress.
“All the campaigns and money thrown about tend to preach to the converted, at the end of the day it’s still women having to support other women reaching the top levels. If it continues to be the ‘old boy’s club’ in charge of actually giving the jobs out, the end result will still be a lack of women employed in the top jobs.”