14 July 2017

Will the European Championship Women's Football become a big sports event?

Frank van Eekeren, USBO over het EK Damesvoetbal
Frank van Eekeren about the Women's Euro 2017 and more

On the eve of the first match of the European Women's Football Championship, Frank van Eekeren and Rutger de Kwaasteniet of Utrecht University tell about their research into the impact of big sports events and the growth of girls' and women's football.

“Women's football is so incredibly popular. It could very well be that we are all going to embrace this event.” Frank van Eekeren is filled with enthusiasm. He is a scholar at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance and researches the social impact of big sports events. “As the Dutch team comes closer to the finals, there could very well be a lot of attention for the EC. Then more people will go to matches. The first three matches of the Dutch team are sold out. It's Summer 2017, which means there are no Olympics, no European or World Football Championships for men. All these factors can contribute to the attention for the football-playing women.”

Incredible appeal

“We look very closely at the social impact on, for instance, groups in disadvantaged areas or disadvantaged groups in society. You see that the effect on those areas and demographics is not that big, but the potential is there. After all, it has an incredible appeal. It's a catalyst to get all kinds of people, organisations and also financing flows in motion. We went to London to especially see in East London before and after the Olympics what was organised there in terms of societal projects. We also saw that not just the money spent on top-class sports increased very much in the build-up to the Olympics, the money spent on recreational sports increased as well. People can also see that spending that much on top-class sports is not enough. You also have to make sure that the foundation is well-provided and that people notice that. By the way, investments in recreational sports decreased quickly after the Olympics in London were over.”

A very expensive party

Van Eekeren continues: “In 2020, there will be the Olympics in Japan. You can see very clearly that the Japanese have understood that such a big sports event is more than a very expensive party of two weeks. Just what is it going to give back to society, and the world too? The organisation in Japan has made promises about the social legacy. We are being consulted on that now. We think along, together with Japanese scholars, on the impact such a big event can have and how that was in other cities. From the School of Governance, that always clearly has been the governance and organisation perspective. How do you organise, manage and govern that in such a way to maximise the likelihood of setting a certain social effect in motion?”

What does a big sports event bring about?

“The costs can be pictured reasonably clear, but the proceeds of a big sports event? Yes, that's of course very difficult to estimate, especially in euros. In any case, there are proceeds in terms of pride, in a certain sense of connection. In disadvantaged neighbourhoods in cities like Utrecht, such as Overvecht or Kanaleneiland, the European Women's Football Championship can be tied to all kinds of local events. That way, you can really give a boost to connecting people. It is, however, crucial that this is done together with local parties, with local sports organisations, schools, social workers, volunteer clubs that are active in these neighbourhoods. That'll really yield a return.”

Rutger de Kwaasteniet over het EK Damesvoetbal
Rutger de Kwaasteniet about the Women's Euro 2017

The increase of the number of football-playing women

Rutger de Kwaasteniet, a PhD Candidate at the same faculty as Van Eekeren, has just started his research into explaining the increase in girls and women playing football in clubs. His research is co-financed by the Dutch football association KNVB. De Kwaasteniet also studies what consequences the aforementioned increase has for the governance and organisation of football clubs. “I'm going to explore what the current issues are within clubs as a result of the intake of girls and women. That will be one of the factors by which I will determine what the research focuses on exactly.”

Ladies playing football in skirts?

So far, De Kwaasteniet is primarily documenting the development and distribution of girls and women playing football in clubs. “In 1896, the Rotterdam-based football and cricket club Sparta took the initiative to organise a match between female football players from Rotterdam and an English women's football team. It may have been a small group, but this proves that women were already playing soccer by the end of the nineteenth century.” De Kwaasteniet does not know whether they were playing in skirts or trousers. “In 1971, the KNVB officially recognised women's soccer. I hope to find out how many girls and women were active before 1971.”

100,000 football-playing girls

By now, almost 100,000 girls are playing competitive football, as was shown in a report by the Mulier Institute in March 2017. This report also states that female KNVB members are relatively young. Two out of three are younger than 18 years. Tennis is the most popular sport among women and girls, with almost 275,000 registered members with the KNLTB. Football takes the fifth place, after tennis, gymnastics, riding horses and hockey.