By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – UEFA has teamed up with Disney to launch a pan-European project aimed at increasing the number of girls playing football.
The biggest-ever attempt to boost girls’ involvement in the game will start this spring in seven European countries before being introduced across the continent, European soccer’s governing body said on Thursday.
The new ‘Playmakers’ project is aimed at girls aged five to eight years old, who are not currently playing football, and is focused around play and games involving popular Disney characters and storylines.
The first stage of the project will be based around the Incredibles 2 film and characters.
UEFA had already committed to an ambitious target of doubling the number of women and girls playing the sport by 2024 and the youngest age group is seen as key to that change.
Nadine Kessler, UEFA’s Head of Women’s Football, told Reuters that the aim of the program was to “create an environment for all girls to flourish and develop, whether that be fundamental movement skills, football basics or life skills and values.
“We truly believe that this unique program can be the spark for a more active generation of football-loving girls.”
While more teenage girls and women are playing football, girls tend to start later than boys, choosing other sports or activities.
UEFA examined research which showed that globally 84% of girls under the age of 17 are not meeting the World Health Organization minimum activity guidelines.
When girls reach the age of 15-24, they are half as likely to participate in sport as boys the same age, according to studies by the European Commission for Education, Sport, Youth and Culture.
Kessler says that sessions at Playmakers events will be very different from traditional training sessions.
“There will still be football cones and a ball but these sessions will allow girls to play out scenes of their favorite Disney movies, they will be empowered to take on the character and roles of their favorite Disney heroes.
“It is broken down into 10 sessions and the girl will learn basic football skills by completing different tasks,” she added.
The Playmakers project will launch in Scotland, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Romania, and Serbia this spring, before a full pan-European roll-out.
Disney is not one of UEFA’s commercial partners and has joined up with the organization specifically for the Playmakers project.
“It is a completely new agreement we have signed and a very important one,” said Kessler.
“If you decided to create a program based on play-based learning then you want to have the best characters and stories in the world and I think Disney has inspired generations and we are really happy to be able to use some of this magic.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)