Let me say, women’s soccer is finally kicking off and gaining the attention it deserves! I am convinced that the commercial value of this sport will skyrocket in the coming decade, making it an exciting time for both players and fans.
In February, the Polish Football Association (PZPN) published the „Women’s Football Strategy in Poland for 2022-2026”, highlighting the need for a strategic aproach to take advantage of the growing popularity of women’s soccer. The strategy includes plans to double the number of players, coaches, and referees involved in soccer within three years. I believe this is a crucial step, as Grzegorz Stefanowicz, the Director of the Department of Women’s Football at PZPN, notes that women’s soccer in Europe and around the world is constantly developing.
You may also want to read this article: Breaking Down the Top Most Popular Sports in Poland
Aiming for the 2025 European Championship
The association is even applying to host the European Women’s Football Championship in 2025. UEFA’s decision on this matter should be made in April, and it would be a significant achievement for Poland if they are selected.
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Currently, there are about 144 million fans of women’s soccer in Europe, but by 2033, this number is expected to double to 328 million people. The commercial value of women’s soccer is also predicted to increase six times, reaching EUR 686 million, with the value of club sponsorship rising to EUR 295 million.
Women’s Soccer Booming in Poland
In Poland, there are already nearly 26,000 players, six levels of competition, and an increasing role for women in sports. The involvement of coaches, referees, and activists is translating into a huge potential for growth. I can tell that this potential is evident in the percentage of Polish women interested in soccer events, which stands at 65 percent. This number is much higher than the European average of 36 percent.
According to PZPN data, over 25,000 players are participating in soccer competitions in Poland, a significant increase from 3,000 in 2013. The number of female referees has also grown, from 180 in 2013 to about 500 today. It is worth mentioning that 12 of these referees participated in the CORE Program for referees and assistants, preparing to officiate matches in the top league.
Since 2019, PZPN has also introduced four macro-regional scouts, focusing exclusively on girls’ soccer.
Supporting Women’s Soccer in Poland
I know that PZPN has been taking numerous initiatives to suport women’s soccer over the years. These efforts include financial support for clubs, a health insurance program for players, and a bonus program for women’s clubs when their players participate in Polish national team training camps.
The financial prizes in the Ekstraliga and Women’s Polish Cup games have also increased significantly, reflecting the growing interest and investment in the sport.
The Growth and Challenges of Women’s Soccer in Poland
From the 2019/2020 season, the total prize pool for the Polish Women’s Cup increased to PLN 1 million, with the winning club receiving PLN 400,000. This is a huge leap compared to the previous award of PLN 35,000 – more than 10 times lower.
Increased Interest and Broadcasts
The interest in women’s soccer is growing in Poland, and starting from the 2020/2021 season, matches of the highest league, the Women’s Ekstraliga, are being broadcast. Mid-season, the league acquired a title sponsor, Orlen, which now supports the Ekstraliga, Women’s First League, and Women’s Polish Cup.
In March 2020, the match between the Polish women’s national team and Moldova attracted nearly 400,000 viewers. However, this number still pales in comparison to the multi-million audience that men’s national team matches garner.
I think it’s essential to appreciate the commitment and hard work women soccer players put into their games. Grzegorz Stefanowicz agrees, acknowledging how these women have to fight for their efforts to be recognized on par with men’s soccer.
Barriers Faced by Women Soccer Players in Poland
Unfortunately, there are still many barriers that women soccer players face. For instance, limited access to sports entities offering training for girls, especially in smaller towns and villages, is a significant issue. Also, football is often played only by boys during PE lessons. According to PZPN data, only 7% of Polish soccer players started playing at school or during PE classes. Despite this, the high interest among girls is evident, as they make up half of the participants in the nationwide football tournament „From the Backyard to the Stadium for the Tymbark Cup”.
At the professional level, insufficient remuneration forces women to combine their soccer careers with other professional work, making it difficult for them to fully commit to the sport. Moreover, the stereotype that „girls should not play football because it is a male sport” is still prevalent, resulting in various forms of gender discrimination and training that isn’t tailored to women’s needs and abilities. Women’s soccer matches often receive less media coverage and have fewer fans attending games.
Grzegorz Stefanowicz points out that there shouldn’t be a distnction between women’s and men’s sports, as seen in other disciplines like volleyball, basketball, and tennis.
PZPN’s Strategy to Break Down Barriers
In February, PZPN published its first-ever strategy dedicated entirely to women’s soccer, aiming to eliminate barriers hindering its development and popularization. The document is based on 11 months of analysis, research, workshops, and consultations with various stakeholders in the football community. It also incorporates feedback from female soccer players, coaches, referees, and representatives of football academies and clubs.
If you need an example of how women’s soccer is breaking barriers and gaining recognition, look no further than Poland. With continued efforts and support, the future of women’s soccer in the country is bright.
Ambitious Goals for Women’s Soccer in Poland
Grzegorz Stefanowicz emphasizes that the „Strategy of Women’s Football in Poland for 2022-2026” is proof of PZPN’s support and recognition for women’s soccer. The strategy sets ambitious goals and directions for the sport’s development, aiming to double the number of players, coaches, and referees involved in soccer by 2026. It also seeks to include girls in soccer at the primary school stage and increase the availability of infrastructure, soccer schools, and clubs.
To achieve these goals, PZPN plans to initiate various projects, such as creating a map of schools and clubs with soccer opportunities for girls and women, organizing free soccer festivals, and educating teachers, coaches, and parents. They also intend to increase financial support through a grant program for Provincial Football Associations to implement their own women’s soccer projects. Other initiatives include doubling the financial awards for winning the Polish women’s championship and second and third places in the top league, and increased investments in regional soccer for younger age categories. Women working in soccer in Poland will also have access to development workshops with mentoring and networking elements.
The Importance of Men’s Clubs Supporting Women’s Soccer
„A lot has changed in women’s soccer and is still changing,” says Grzegorz Stefanowicz. He believes that Western European countries demonstrate the potential for progress, commercialization, and sponsorship opportunities. However, he also stresses that the biggest changes will happen when men’s clubs start consciously opening women’s sections – a crucial step for the sport’s development.
In 2022, the Polish Football Association officially submitted a candidacy to host the European Women’s Championship in 2025. The final tournament will feature 16 teams playing a total of 31 matches. UEFA’s Executive Committee is expected to make a decision on the host selection in April 2023.
If you want to see the growth and progress of women’s soccer, keep an eye on Poland as it strives to achieve its ambitious goals. With the support of the entire PZPN, the future of women’s soccer in the country looks promising.