The history books will show that Korea DPR triumphed in the fifth edition of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup by beating Japan in the final. But while the North Koreans are celebrating another title, the host country and surrounding region were unquestionably also big winners.
The recently concluded event represents the first time that a FIFA women's tournament has been staged in the Middle East, in a region where not that long ago, women faced a struggle to watch football in the stands, let alone play the game. Three years after FIFA's decision to award Jordan hosting rights to the U-17 Women's World Cup 2016, and two years after the Laws of the Game were amended to allow the wearing of headscarves, the hosts' opening match against Spain will go down in history as the first-ever fixture in a FIFA competition to feature players sporting head coverings. Thanks to milestones such as these, the beautiful game has gained a foothold among Jordanian and Middle Eastern women, one which promises to grow steadily larger thanks to the priceless, enduring impact of the tournament.
"We wanted to leave a legacy and I think we've taken a big step forward." This is the verdict of Samar Nassar, the CEO of the Jordan 2016 Local Organising Committee (LOC). "It was essential that we built the necessary infrastructure, including the stadiums and 14 training pitches, in order to be up to international standards. We have also trained a large number of people, equipping them for the highest level. These efforts will, without a shadow of a doubt, contribute towards the development of Jordanian football, while also benefiting the wider community."
Capturing the imagination
Speaking of the community, the outreach activities during the tournament notably included the Live Your Goals Festival held in Al Zarqa, one of the host cities. Some 150 girls from schools all over the country came together for the occasion, united by one common denominator: a love of football. Organised by FIFA in collaboration with the Jordan Football Association, this was just one in a series of events in a four-year programme aiming to raise awareness of the sport, encourage young girls to take it up and boost its popularity.
On this note, the game's appeal would appear to be booming in Jordan judging by the enthusiasm shown by the locals in recent weeks. The whole country – including hundreds of children based at refugee camps who were invited to attend matches – really got into the spirit of the tournament and cheered on the national team passionately. The stadiums were jam-packed for Jordan's maiden outings on the world stage and three defeats in as many fixtures did not dampen the Jordanians' pride at seeing their country represented at the finals of a FIFA competition for the first time. Furthermore, no one was left out: one of FIFA and the LOC's priorities was to make the venues as accessible as possible, as well as providing disabled people and those with reduced mobility with any help that they required.
Beyond the matter of infrastructure, the legacy left behind by the competition centres on the drive to develop football in general, and women's football in particular, in the region. Giving the host country's football scene extra impetus for the duration of a tournament is all well and good, but paving the way for sustainable development is that much better. That was one of the goals of the regional coaching workshop staged in Amman against the backdrop of the competition, which was attended by 16 budding women's football coaches from the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, Oman, Iran and Jordan. They will now look to put what they learned in this course, which featured several talks given by FIFA experts, into practice in their homelands so as to further the development of women's football in the Middle East.
Goals score thousands of footballs for Jordan's people
On the pitch, shortly before the tournament’s opening game, additional motivation was given to the eager and goal-hungry forwards from the 16 participating nations when FIFA and the Jordan Football Association announced that they would match every goal scored during Jordan 2016 with a donation of 150 footballs. In total, 103 goals were scored across the 32 matches. Consequently, 15,450 adidas balls will be distributed to vulnerable communities across the Kingdom in the coming months, offering all of Jordan’s children the chance to play, practice and hopefully participate in Jordan’s football future.
Moreover, women's involvement in the tournament went far beyond the confines of the pitch. Significantly, a large number of women were involved in aspects such as the planning, organisation and day-to-day operations of the competition and, given its success, the decision to place so much responsibility in their hands was emphatically vindicated. Indeed, no fewer than 75 per cent of the LOC members were women.
Foremost among them was Nassar and so it is only fitting that we leave the final word about the indelible mark left on the region to her. The LOC CEO is naturally delighted with how things have unfolded, but is also not losing sight of the bigger picture: "I'm very proud of our staff and volunteers, but our mission is not yet complete. This tournament is just the beginning of a much longer journey and we will need everyone's help to attract and retain fans in order to build on the momentum that this tournament has generated," she concluded.
Discover more details about the heritage of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 in the fantastic video above.