Attended by 500 representatives from 200 member associations, the fourth FIFA Women's Football Symposium came to a close on Saturday following two intense days of activity in Shanghai. The event provided a global overview of the game in general and threw up a host of proposals designed to bring about faster and more consolidated growth of women's football in the future.
The sessions focused on key areas in the development of the game, with the first speakers underlining the need to create an extensive and solid network at grassroots level to encourage young girls to take up the game, as well as highlighting the benefits of creating official competitions to aid player development and training.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter's announcement that the minimum percentage of funding allocated to the associations for the development of the women's game will be increased from ten to 20 per cent was met with unanimous applause from the delegates, conscious as they are of the need for financial support to put effective plans into action.
The task facing women's football, therefore, is to seek out partnerships with governments to implement programmes supporting its growth, and to forge links with businesses by encouraging sponsors to support competitions and help raise the profile of the game. The need to develop synergies through government-backed initiatives was underlined as was the importance of building up working relationships with sports, health and education ministries.
The introduction of women's football to schools was identified as a hugely important step for many reasons. As well as making it much easier for girls to become involved in the sport, school is the most effective environment for tackling prejudice and bringing about broader social acceptance of football as a game for women and girls.
Other issues dealt with by the symposium included the breaking down of cultural barriers that prevent girls taking up the sport, the importance of building links with outside groups to take the game forward, and the increased involvement of women in areas such as refereeing, coaching and administrative positions in the world of football.
Although great strides have been made in recent years, much still needs to be done to promote the sport in the media and thereby increase awareness among the general public, and delegates heard from several experienced journalists about how the game's media profile can be increased.
Each and every one of these aspects was illustrated with real case studies that showed how practical plans are being implemented to enhance the state of the game. Heike Ullrich spoke of the success the German FA have had in encouraging their international players to move into coaching, while the president of the Chilean FA, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, detailed how his country will look to develop women's football in Chile, where it is still very much a minority sport, when it hosts the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in 2008.
One of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening was reserved for Rubina Irfan from Pakistan, who told delegates how, over the last three years, her female compatriots have driven the game forward, bringing down many of the cultural barriers facing them along the way.
All in all, the two-day symposium proved to be an uplifting and highly informative event for those attending, and as one grateful delegate declared, no doubt determined to put theory into practice on her return home: "There's no point in having concerns if we don't come up with ideas to address them. We've learnt a lot here, that's for sure."