Women’s football is making developmental progress globally but there is still some ways to go says Karina LeBlanc, head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football [CONCACAF] Women’s Football.
LeBlanc who played as a goalkeeper and helped Canada win a historic bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics told Barbados TODAY she hopes that the first-ever CONCACAF W spearheaded by its women’s department can generate interest that would encourage young girls to play football.
She spoke this afternoon at the Barbados Football Association in Wildey, where a total of 150 local primary school girls were present for the pilot project which CONCACAF W is hoping to build and sustain for the future.
A former two-time Olympian, LeBlanc explained that considering where women’s football was years ago, the sport had come a long way and further opportunities such as scholarships were being created.
“There has definitely been a closing of the gap, but we still have a small ways to go. When I started playing I remember we used to have like five, eight people in the stands and I played 18 years for Canada. By the end, we had a cup [tournament] with sold-out stadiums and men were wearing women’s jersey and young girls were wearing boys’ jerseys and young girls had heroes to look up to.
“So, the girls have definitely grown but it still is a long way off where we need to go. But that is why I love what I do because you see where it could be, and you see where it is coming, and you see it is a thorn moving sometimes slowly, but nothing happens overnight,” LeBlanc said.
“And when we could do events like this and get more girls to love the game, when we could do events like this and get more coaches [men and women] to be part of it, when we could do events like this and get media to show up and care, write articles and make a young girl want to play, it is all of us owning our role in this movement of growing and getting more girls to play sports, especially football, the number one sport in the world.”
According to LeBlanc, the idea is for every girl through CONCACAF W to be a better version of themselves because of football. Therefore, she said Barbados was the perfect choice to start this pilot project because it is one of CONCACAF’s member associations that has an interest in growing the women’s game.
“We wanted to nail the project, we wanted to understand what we needed to learn, what was great about it, what we could use, what we could duplicate, and what we need to start or stop doing. Then, based on the needs of other countries see where our next place is. But we just knew this is the country [Barbados] we wanted to jump it off in because this is the country that is looking to grow the women’s game. And we wanted a country that had an appetite for it, and they are a few other Caribbean countries that do have that appetite and that is the ones we are going to go work with,” LeBlanc said.
Today, the girls were thought football drills they can use not only in football but beyond the pitch by Nora Dooley, Community and Government Partnership Manager for coaches.
Those drills were watched closely by President of the Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association and FIFA and CONCACAF council member, Sonia Fulford who described the day as a significant one.
Fulford explained that the CONCACAF women’s department is seeking to create its own brand similar to how they recently had the Scotiabank CONCACAF Next Play which catered to a large group of boys and comprised a few girls.
“We all know that in our region that we are facing many challenges of developing the women’s game. Whether it is from a culture standpoint, support from MA’s [member associations] or whatever it may be, but we know that those challenges are there. And this event is big not only for Barbados but also for the region. It is something for us to follow and for me, the end goal is to have many more girls just like these girls and female coaches coming out and doing the same thing in their respective countries.
“I expect to see more sponsors come on board and try to support this type of initiative. We are hoping with sponsors on board whether it is MA [member associations], corporate sponsors, [or] from the government that we can have an actual name for this event, and we can have many more just like this and even better,” Fulford said.
She added: “I am impressed with the volunteers, the male and female coaches that came out here today. It tells me that people are enthusiastic about something like this. They are interested and it is a beautiful start to great things that are to come.”