By Gary Anderson

April 9 - The IFA has been warned it needs to develop girls' and women's football or face funding cuts ©Bongarts/Getty Images The Irish Football Association (IFA) has been told girls' and women's football has to become a priority or else they face the threat of funding cuts in the future.

Northern Ireland Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin wants more to be done to promote the women's game, from the senior international side down to the grassroots level, and has warned any future funding could hinge on how the IFA treat the development of the sport among young female players and participants.

Northern Ireland's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) is due to dole out a new tranche of funding next year and Ni Chuilin wants the country's governing body for football to illustrate it is taking women's football seriously.

She wants some of the money it has already received for the redevelopment of Windsor Park in Belfast to go towards participation schemes for girls and people with disabilities.

"The money that the IFA are receiving to develop Windsor Park isn't just for a brand new stadium," Ni Chuilin told The Belfast Telegraph.

"It also relates to community benefits and supporting developmental squads within their sport and by that I mean all squads.

"I've asked the IFA to make sure the women aren't considered as an after-thought.

"Although people may not have appreciated it and some may not have agreed with it, I put strong conditions into the contract for funding.

"When I talk about community benefits and looking at gaps in terms of equality legislation, that means girls, young women and people with disabilities being taken into account.

"When the next round of funding comes along, I will be scrutinising it to such an extent that if I don't see enough support in what the IFA are doing for girls and women's soccer we are going to be having some serious conversations."

Northern Ireland Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin wants the women's game to be given as much exposure as the men's at all levels in the country ©Getty Images Northern Ireland Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin wants the women's game to be given as much exposure as the men's at all levels in the country ©Getty Images

The warning comes after the IFA launched its Girls' and Women's Football Plan.

The plan is a result of an extensive two-year consultation carried out by the IFA and aims to put structures in place that will provide Northern Ireland's female players with the opportunity to qualify for a major tournament within the next 10 to 15 years, through creating better participation opportunities for female players and developing better coaches.

It also promises to put the governance of women's football at the centre of the IFA's work and to foster a culture of lifelong participation in football.

"Developing the game and setting targets to increase girls and women's participation at all levels is crucial for the Irish FA moving forward," said the IFA's director of football development, Michael Boyd, speaking at the launch in Belfast, where he was joined by Northern Ireland women's head coach Alfie Wylie and team captain Ashley Hutton.

"We need more women in leadership roles, we need more girls playing and dreaming about football, we need more positive female role models visible in the media and we need more female volunteers developing the game."

The plan has been endorsed by European football governing body UEFA and the game's world governing body FIFA.

FIFA's senior women's football development manager, Mayi Cruz Blanco, welcomed the new initiative saying: "FIFA sees grassroots and leagues development as priorities for women's football moving forward.

"In line with this, we fully support this new strategic plan and look forward to working with the Irish FA.

"In addition, we hope by awarding the Irish FA funding and support through the FIFA 'Live Your Goals' campaign we will be able to support the association to engage more girls at club level and increase overall participation in the country."

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