2017 worlds in Langley to showcase female football
Photo credit: WWC 2013 Finland / Juri Turunen
By: Ameeta Vohra
The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championship is not only a measuring stick of how much the game has grown, but is also an opportunity for women’s tackle football to get much needed exposure.
Team Canada quarterbacks coach Saadia Ashraf has seen a positive shift in the women’s football movement in Canada. Read more about how Saadia’s pioneering the transition from women’s national team player to coach here.
“I think the visibility has grown,” said Ashraf who began playing tackle football in the early 2000’s and played for Canada at the first two women’s worlds. “There’s more women playing football in Canada, the States and around the world.”
For a time, there were few options for women to play tackle football. Ashraf believes the expansion of teams and leagues in parts of the country has increased awareness and made it easier for women to take up the sport.
“When you mention the (Montreal) Blitz or the WWCFL (Western Women’s Canadian Football League) and you mention the MWFL (Maritime Women’s Football League), people know about it so I think it has grown that way. I think for Canadian women playing football, it has grown significantly in terms of the women, talent and interest involved.”
The growth is in part due to the establishment of the IFAF Women’s World Championships held July 2010 in Sweden. Following the inaugural event, the Western Women’s Canadian Football League played its first season with teams in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. The Maritime Women’s Football League – founded in 2004 — and Montreal Blitz — established in 2003 — continue to provide opportunities for female participation.
This summer will mark the first time that the women’s world championship is held outside of Europe. The former national team player turned quarterbacks coach is hoping it inspires interest in female tackle football.
“I am hoping that because we are playing in Canada, that people will see it’s football,” said Ashraf. “Pound for pound, these girls are hitting; it’s quick, it’s fast. They aren’t 350-pound guys but it’s still entertaining, it’s good football. My hope is people will see that and maybe get more involved in trying to help the girls that are going to try to keep playing.”
“If we have more visibility with this world championship, I’m hoping that people see us (women’s tackle football) as an option. Someone may get involved and try to start up teams across the country.”
One of the largest areas of potential growth remains in Ontario and Quebec as Ashraf’s hometown team, the Montreal Blitz are currently the only female squad between Canada’s two most populated provinces.
“The Blitz play in the States because of proximity. If there was a team in Quebec City, a team in Toronto and in Ottawa then hey, we would stay locally and play here. My hope is that will eventually happen. It’s not because we don’t like playing in the States. If we had teams locally, we’d be playing locally and it would definitely cut down on our travel costs.”
Ultimately, Ashraf hopes that the 2017 tournament will inspire more women to play the sport. The quarterback advises any women considering the sport, especially after seeing the tournament to have confidence and plunge right in as it’s a very inclusive sport.
“You never know until you step out there on the field,” she urged anyone hesitant to take up the sport.
“It takes all kind of athletes, all kinds of mentalities, all kinds of body types and any hesitation you just have to go for it. I’ve played and coached for a long time and I’ve seen lots of different types of women go through this sport and if they have even a little desire to play, then try it. They should step on the field and let their travels take them further.”
Teams of 45-women will compete at the 2017 women’s worlds in Langley, BC. With any luck they’ll inspire future generations of female athletes across the country to take up the sport with the goal of wearing Canada across their chest.
About the author
Ameeta is a freelance sports and news journalist based in Halifax. During her career, she has covered many sporting events including the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, Vanier Cup, Uteck Bowl, Football Canada Cup, CFL Draft and NCAA Signing Day, Follow her on Twitter @vohra_ameeta
This post is also available in: French