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Jordan taking lead role in promoting women’s football — FIFA official

Haenni says female-led sports growing slowly but surely

By Muath Freij - Oct 04,2016 - Last updated at Oct 04,2016

Sarah Abu-Sabbah of Jordan starts to celebrate as she scores her team's first goal during the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 Group A match against Mexico at Al Hassan International Stadium, Irbid, on Monday (Photo courtesy of FIFA)

AMMAN — By hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Jordan is taking a lead role in promoting women’s football in a region where the sport has yet to take hold, a FIFA official said on Tuesday.   

Tatjana Haenni, the head of women’s football at FIFA, said hosting a World Cup tournament is a big decision for any country. 

Host countries must meet many requirements, Haenni said, noting that Jordan had decided in recent years to upgrade its stadiums, some of which were in need of refurbishment. 

“So it is a nice story that the girls helped men’s professional football to get [the stadiums and infrastructure] up to standard. I think in Jordan we have seen a lot of women in the LOC [Local Organising Committee] in some key positions, so for women having a chance to have such roles, it is great,” she told The Jordan Times in an interview.   

The number of registered female players in Jordan is fine, given that women’s football is a young sport, Haenni said, adding that the figure is growing. 

“The number is growing but of course if you want to be competitive and if you want to qualify one day through qualification... the league needs to be stronger and they probably need coach education and more international experience.”

She added: “I think that these are things that the JFA [Jordan Football Association] is aware of and I am sure they will continue to work on.” 

Commenting on the number of fans attending the matches, the FIFA official noted that it has been a challenge in the past to attract big crowds to all the matches in this tournament.   

She also noted that stadium requirements for a World Cup tournament, including dressing room needs and technical facilities, meant that the matches had to be held in Jordan’s largest stadiums, with 10,000-15,000 seats. 

“It is maybe too big for such a competition but you have no choice, so if you take all these factors into account, the number of spectators is good,” Haenni said. 

The culture of women’s football is new in Jordan, but the fan base is growing thanks to the tournament, she highlighted. 

“I think the women’s national team in the past had almost no spectators. When they played... nobody cared to come and watch.”

But the interest in the team now is “already a big success, especially with the opening match; it was exceptional, and [Monday] in Irbid”, she added. 

The national team lost the opening match to Spain 0-6, while Mexico beat Jordan 5-1.

During the match in Irbid, Sarah Abu Sabbah recorded Jordan’s first-ever goal at a Women’s World Cup when she scored for the national team.

“When we were here to look at the stadiums, one of the things that we discussed, together with the LOC, was that we wanted to take out the fences.” 

“I think that you can see in all matches that the fans behaved very well, and I think it is a different group of fans. It is not the normal men’s professional hard-core fans; it is more families, and I think it’s great. Football is for all and football should be for families,” she noted.  

Haenni said the senior women’s competitions are becoming more professional and attracting growing interest from the commercial sector. 

“But the youth U-17 and U-20, for me, remain development tournaments, so it is really a chance for players to grow, to learn and experience a World Cup and to prepare them for the future world cups... it is a huge learning path in all areas — education, sports behaviour and culture,” she added.  

Haenni commented on the level of safety felt in Jordan, during the tournament and during previous inspection visits to the Kingdom. 

“We have this tournament here and we feel really safe, and we know we are in a region that there are issues around, but Jordan has been always a hub,” the official said.

 

“I think the role of Jordan is important in this region, and if we can enforce this and say, ‘football is played here and it has been successful, and people come to Jordan and enjoy their time in Jordan’, and this message gets to the world and the girls go back to their homes with nice memories... I think we have contributed a little bit to the message that Jordan is a beautiful country.”

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