Week 188 (20 - 26 May)
Next Saturday, the world’s eyes will turn to Cardiff to watch Real Madrid vs. Juventus in the highly anticipated UEFA Champions League Final. But alongside the glitz and glamour of exciting high-profile sporting events like this, there is a different, more profound side to sport – a side that can influence important social change.
On the same day as the women’s Champions League Final, Thursday 1 June, UEFA is launching its ground-breaking “Together #WePlayStrong” initiative, which wants to make football the number one participation sport for girls and women in Europe by 2022. The strategic plan is designed to encourage girls to take up and continue playing football from June 2017 onwards, with the main focus being the impact football can have on their mental and physical well-being.
UEFA’s campaign is communicating the important message that sport can be used as a tool for social change, by capitalising on the proven psychological and emotional benefits of playing football to help inspire girls across Europe to make a decision that will change their lives. Through sport, people have a genuine opportunity to better themselves, to gain energy, confidence and a voice in a world they may otherwise feel lost in.
Sport has the ability to help people of any age or gender to realise or even surpass what they previously thought was the limit of their potential. UEFA’s strategic plan, which draws on the findings of its extensive study, titled “The Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Playing Football on Girls and Women in Europe”, will undoubtedly help girls and women across Europe exceed their prior perception of what was possible.
The study involved more than 4,000 girls and confirmed that teenagers who play football have higher levels of self-confidence, and that football can have a greater positive impact on the self-confidence of girls than other popular sports. Aditi Chauhan, a professional footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for West Ham United Ladies and is also part of the India women's national football team, has given her full backing to the UEFA initiative:
"First of all, I laud UEFA’s initiative of conducting a study to investigate the effect of football on the psyche of young women. I completely concur with the findings of the study as I feel it is both timely and relevant. Football gave me a unique identity. My on-field experiences gave me a lot of confidence, something which helped my personality evolve off field as well. For a girl to follow her passion in India requires a lot of dedication and hard work. We all simply want to be doing something that we love and I feel lucky to have been able to do so."
She added: "Once you start valuing yourself as a sportswoman, you expect others to give you the respect that you deserve. Nothing can shake the spirit of a sportswoman who is determined to make it big, especially when she has all the weapons in her armoury to excel at the highest level."
David Edmondson, who is the former head of women's football for the Football Federation South Australia, also agrees with the findings of the study:
“The relationships built through team sports can positively impact social well-being and the activity from playing sport can impact on physical well-being. As women's football gains greater acceptance and understanding in daily life, I'm sure football can further positively impact self-esteem and confidence.”
It is easy to get lost in the excitement of professional sport and forget the immense impact it can have at a grassroots level, but UEFA’s campaign is a reminder that initiatives that influence social change are just as essential to sport’s existence.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons