One year on from the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, UEFA have released their post-tournament impact report.

The report looks back on a triumphant tournament, which broke records for attendance and surpassed goals around increasing participation, all whilst greatly raising the profile of women’s football in the UK and internationally.

Beyond its benefits to the sport, the report also found that the tournament had profound social impacts on the towns and cities which hosted it, with 74% of local residents reporting that the tournament brought their community closer together.

The nature of the tournament made it particularly suited to achieving social impacts: the decision to host it across multiple locations in the UK ensured that the potential economic benefits were equitably distributed across a wider geographic spread. Similarly, by spreading out the activities associated with the event, organisers can foster conditions for local participation, creating knock-on benefits for connection and civic pride at a local level.

So, what was the impact of the event on the towns and cities in the UK which hosted it?

To answer this, we can look in greater detail at one of the places that made the decision to host – Sheffield.

Sheffield boasts a proud history of footballing achievement. The city was home to the world’s first football club, Sheffield Football Club, which began in 1857. This year, Sheffield has seen two men’s clubs promoted, with Sheffield United moving into the Premier League and Sheffield Wednesday into the first division, prompting celebrations across the city in June. Sheffield has also enjoyed legacies from previous events, having hosted the 1991 World Student Games.

Against this backdrop, last year Sheffield hosted Women’s Euros matches, an official Fan Park and an event legacy programme. The city achieved an international and UK profile, bringing significant economic benefits to the visitor economy.

The tournament saw a step up in women’s participation in football, greater support for women’s refereeing, and growth in demand for grassroots clubs and support.

Sheffield’s love for football extended beyond the pitch and into the city’s vibrant cultural and arts scene, with a culture and arts programme running alongside the event. The Millennium Gallery hosted a football showcase, featuring the Football Art Prize. Additionally, partnerships with the Olympic Legacy Park and sporting health sectors ensured that the city utilised football as a tool to promote physical activity and wellbeing among its residents.

Sheffield holds the title of the first City of Sanctuary, demonstrating its commitment to welcoming visitors and embracing new communities. Through the Women’s Euros, the city witnessed remarkable community engagement, participation, and cohesion. Fans from diverse backgrounds came together to share food, stories, cultures, and history, fostering a sense of unity and acceptance. The Peace Gardens and Devonshire Green became gathering spots for families who enjoyed picnics before matches, creating lasting memories and strengthening community bonds.

Sheffield’s experience highlights the transformative power of major sporting events. These events have the ability to transcend social divides, bringing communities together and cultivating civic pride, whilst galvanising a sense of purpose and opportunity. However, this does not happen automatically, but requires careful planning, accountability and governance, as well as a strong focus on who benefits and who is left out.

Through their decision to host the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, Sheffield demonstrated how, through hosting a major event, they were able to achieve a raft of social outcomes and benefits. The legacy of the event has surpassed sporting achievement, catalysing community engagement, social connection, wellbeing and pride. Through careful design, accountability and governance, host places can harness the power of major events to create lasting legacies that benefit community members and lead to outcomes beyond increasing participation in sport.

As we look forward to this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, we should keep in mind the remarkable impact which major events have had on the towns and cities which have hosted them. Since 2022, the UK has enjoyed a packed calendar of events, hosting the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Eurovision and Unboxed, as well as the 75th anniversaries of the NHS and HMT Empire Windrush.

Going forward, it is crucial that we consider how these events can work together to be more than the sum of their parts. We must share knowledge and learning to ensure that we deliver events which go beyond spectacle and celebration, harnessing the unique power of events to foster social connection, wellbeing, and civic pride.

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