FIFA Policies pose a new challenge for Ellis on WCups every two years
London Heading out three decades of coaching lifting the World Cup for the second time with the Americans, Jill Ellis has taken time to reflect and embark on a different path, with new career challenges.
“I’m not saying I’ll never go back to the sidelines,” Ellis said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I feel like the goal is bigger.”
Advice from the head of a college sports project — “Be a voice, be visible, build a community” — led Ellis to take over as the head of the Women’s National Football League Expansion Team as the San Diego wave hits next year. It also saw Ellis accept a leadership role from FIFA to explore a transformation in the women’s game.
The focus of this project is the idea of doubling the pace of the World Cup – to play the finals of each event every two years. It was a vision first brought up during the 2019 tournament in France as Ellis was winning her second title, with little immediate opposition.
But the resistance has grown, spurred by concerns in men’s soccer as European officials bemoan the limited consultation before the head of global soccer development, Arsene Wenger, unveils potential new men’s calendars to accommodate the biennial World Cup.
Ellis said after a meeting in London of the FIFA technical advisory group that she leads. “I hope we don’t see her policies on the men’s side, we’re actually looking at what’s best for our matches.”
Even the European Football Association (UEFA), the governing body overseeing European football, has threatened to boycott the World Cup if FIFA gets broader support to implement the restructuring of the sport.
“Let’s put politics aside now, and let’s take a look at what affects and changes life,” Ellis said. “What will really grow our sport? And I think my job is not to look at it in one region, but to look at it all over the world.”
The concepts of the biennial World Cup for men and women have become intertwined despite the differences.
Wenger envisages reducing the number of windows for international games per year from five to two. But Ellis is exploring removing just one period that was for international games to leave five windows, highlighting the different needs of the women’s game with far fewer well-resourced domestic competitions.
“A lot of countries around the world don’t have organized (women’s) leagues and infrastructure, so the point of contact is the national team,” Ellis said. “It’s still the biggest driver of women’s soccer… the international tournaments and national teams.”
That’s why, on the heels of her first World Cup win in 2015, Ellis convinced the NFL to create their own tournament, with the She Believes Cup kicking off in 2016.
“One of the things I looked at is there are four years between the World Cup finals, and we have one major event which is the Olympics,” Ellis said. “So how am I going to get my players back to the idea of competing and getting on the podium? So I actually went to my manager and was like, ‘We need to create a tournament other than a friendly where I manage playing time, minutes and points. So it prepares me for the world championship, but it also prepares our players for how to manage Championship rhythm.
This is especially necessary when qualifying for the World Cup is easy for teams like the United States.
Stripped opponents have been a hallmark of qualification in Europe, with a few elite competitive matches being highlighted by England with 32 unanswered goals in their first four games en route to the 2023 Championship.
“It’s not just about the World Cup every two years,” Ellis said. “We are looking to create a new track for qualifying so you don’t see the results you’ve seen recently here in Europe. Nobody benefits when the score is 10-0 either way. It’s not growing our sport.”
While she was consulting around the world, Ellis also noted Hong Kong’s exit from the competition after playing in two qualifying matches.
“Football in their country can stop,” Ellis said. “How can we create more events, more opportunities for a country to continue to develop? Are they now going the route of maybe a different event, a different championship?”
But the leading women’s leagues – including in England, Germany and Italy – say more World Cups will be detrimental to their growth by saturating sponsorship opportunities and claiming that the calendar does not fit another tournament. Despite this, England set up their own four-team tournament in February in preparation to host the European Championship in July.
“What becomes difficult is for people to become so surrounded by their plot of land,” Ellis said. “My job is to try and say, ‘Hey, there’s enough landscape for all of us, but let’s see how we can develop the game. “If the game grows globally, I think everyone will win.”
However, Ellis must also overcome opposition from the International Olympic Committee, which is concerned about the pressure on player welfare, additional men’s tournaments casting a shadow over women’s events and clashes with other sports trying to avoid being overshadowed by football.
“We’re not front and center enough,” Ellis said. “We’re not on TV enough. So we put in there more. It’s not about breaking up each other. It’s about trying to make room for women’s sports, period.”
The end of FIFA is not certain with the vote on the biennial World Cup no longer planned for December.
“Let’s put politics aside now, and let’s take a look at what affects and changes life,” Ellis said. “What will really grow our sport? And I think my job is not to look at it from one region, but to look at it from all over the world.”
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