UEFA women’s football chief Nadine Kessler reacts to ‘fantastic’ ticket sales ahead of Euro 2022

The biggest women’s European Championship ever takes place in England this summer, with 96,000 fans from 95 different countries set to descend on the nine host cities.

Nadine Kessler, UEFA’s head of women’s football, believes it will be the most competitive EURO yet as the tournament is also estimated to offer half a million new opportunities for girls and women in England.

Several games are already sold out, including the final at Wembley and the Lionesses’ three group games. With women’s football enjoying record attendances across Europe this season, there is excitement and anticipation ahead of a memorable summer for Sarina Wiegman and her team.

UEFA's Nadine Kessler believes Euro 2022 will help boost the popularity of women's football

UEFA’s Nadine Kessler believes Euro 2022 will help boost the popularity of women’s football

She spoke to Sportsmail at the launch of new sustainable pitch Lay's RePlay in Turin

She spoke to Sportsmail at the launch of new sustainable pitch Lay’s RePlay in Turin

“Ticket sales are around 410,000, growing and growing. We need that,” Kessler tells Sportsmail.

“It’s also important to sell tickets before the tournament, when was that before? For people to buy tickets to a women’s football tournament in advance, that’s fantastic. I’m really hoping that with the hype created in England when the tournament starts, we can still sell some tickets.’

There were concerns about attendance figures for games not involving England. The Arnold Clark Cup drew few crowds for games the Lionesses did not attend, although this was due in part to timing and planning.

“Of course that’s the challenge,” says Kessler. “The last few Euros were the main concern so not all the main stadiums can be Wembley.

“We come from a past where there were hardly any traveling fans. That will change for this euro, but we still have to build it up. Previously, these tournaments depended on the host country being allowed to support the host team.

“We’re confident that we’ll attract a decent crowd for these Euros outside of the Lionesses games too and we’ll do our utmost to push the promotion across Europe over the next few months to encourage more and more people to decide to go to England.” to travel.

The former German national player retired prematurely at the age of 28 after a knee injury

The former German national player retired prematurely at the age of 28 after a knee injury

“We had ticket purchases from 95 countries from the Women’s European Championship. Many countries outside of Europe like USA, China, even countries that don’t have teams. That was never really the case. This shows us where we are going. I think we have to work very hard to keep improving this.”

The opening game of the Euro, England v Austria, will be played at Old Trafford, while the already sold-out final will be played at Wembley Stadium.

However, UEFA has been criticized for some of the smaller venues used for the group stage.

Iceland will play two games at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium, which only seats 7,000 spectators. Both games are sold out and captain Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir described the use of the stadium as “embarrassing” and “disrespectful”.

“Of course, if your game is sold out, you want to play in a bigger stadium, I understand the comments,” says Kessler.

“What people need to understand is that there is a big bidding process behind this, which cities in England got in touch with a while ago before the FA put the bid to us.

Her job is to drive women's football forward as head of UEFA women's football strategy 2019-24

Her job is to drive women’s football forward as head of UEFA women’s football strategy 2019-24

“At the European Women’s Championship in the Netherlands, the average attendance was 5,500 without the participation of the Dutch team. We chose fairly large stadiums. In England, of course, there’s Wembley and Old Trafford, but there’s three or four 30,000 (stadiums) in there, another over 15,000 and then two smaller ones.

“The concept at the time was really just to have diversity to be flexible and have different capacities to choose from while also deciding on the host cities that really wanted to be part of this bid.

“You have to strive for the highest possible ambition without losing sight of reality. That’s the real honest answer to that [choosing] the Manchester City Academy.

“Man City really cares about women’s football and he really wanted to be part of this bid. Yes it’s a smaller venue but I think overall in the Netherlands we had a total capacity of 480,000 seats available, now it’s 750,000 so it’s a lot more.’

After the Euro, the next big task for UEFA concerns the qualification structure for future tournaments.

She joined Baroness Sue Campbell CBE and Chris Bryant in 2020 to promote the tournament

She joined Baroness Sue Campbell CBE and Chris Bryant in 2020 to promote the tournament

Kessler confirmed in December they would change the process after a spate of huge goals in the 2023 World Cup qualifiers. England defeated Latvia 20-0 in November, with coach Sarina Wiegman admitting such results would hurt women’s football.

“We believe that the format is not the right way for the next qualification campaign,” says Kessler. “I think the format is a key tool that we can change to create a more competitive system.

“But yes, the federations have to invest more, the federations have to play regularly, the national leagues have to work, which has not been the case in every country in the last two years.

“Certainly we will change the format for the next qualifying campaign. It will happen very soon. I think it’s going to be really exciting so we’re ready for Euro 2025. We should have some news on that in September.

“We are on a really good way to create a new competition that is really exciting but also different than before. To ensure everyone has good competition we will avoid such goal lines.

Pre-qualifications have been suggested and is a system used in the past, but this is not always favored by the smaller nations who prefer to compete against the larger countries.

Kessler confirmed it will be an all-new system, with a Nations League-style format the most likely way forward.

“It is completely different from the pre-qualification. We spoke to all associations. There is a very good cooperation. They have great understanding for each other.

The 34-year-old played in midfield at VfL Wolfsburg from 2011 to 2016

The 34-year-old played in midfield at VfL Wolfsburg from 2011 to 2016

“Maybe you want to compete against a top nation but you also want to win and I think winning in women’s football, trying to invest further in your country is also important.

“As small nations, being slammed 10-0 or 15-0 doesn’t help anyone. It’s going to be exciting and I think we’ll find a way to give the associations enough opportunities to play against similarly strong teams, but maybe also against a big team.

“There is no easy fix and I think a lot of things come together that will determine if you can be successful as a country.

“Northern Ireland has a clear investment plan. In recent years they have been running youth tournaments, they’ve really built a team over the years, they have a lot of players who are now playing abroad. You have shown that it is possible [to qualify for a tournament].’

Kessler spoke to Sportsmail at the launch of Lay’s RePlay, a new sustainable pitch in Turin, the first pitch to be laid in 2022.

Lay’s and Gatorade came together on their grassroots initiatives in Italy as part of PepsiCo’s ongoing commitment to providing equal opportunities for men and women on the pitch and to celebrate its sponsorship of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Kessler pointed out that UEFA is planning a complete reform of the tournament's qualifying format

Kessler pointed out that UEFA is planning a complete reform of the tournament’s qualifying format

Lay’s RePlay is a global initiative, launched in partnership with the UEFA Foundation for Children and streetfootballworld, aiming to bring joy to deserving communities by creating football pitches made partially from reused chip bags.

The new pitch was then used for the Italian final of the Gatorade 5v5 Tournament – ​​it is an annual fivev5 competition for 14-16 year old boys and girls that aims to become the next generation to inspire athletes while creating opportunities for everyone to showcase their passion, dedication and talent.

“It was a fantastic initiative, the UEFA Foundation together with Lay’s to open up the pitch and get youngsters into the game. This will support educational programs to truly build the community and give youth a sense of belonging.

“It was well received by the community, we had a lot of fun, I scored a penalty, I became super competitive! When you’re already creating truly inclusive environments in communities, this is where change really happens.’

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