Women's Soccer World Cup Germany Hoping for Another Summer Fairytale
Germany is all set to host the 2011 Women's World Cup later this month. Fans are hoping for a "summer fairytale" to rival that enjoyed during the men's tournament in 2006, and many in women's soccer are hoping the sport will enjoy a global boom. Most players, however, just want things to get a little better.
It is a spring Sunday in Hamburg and a football match is underway in a stadium on Hagenbeckstrasse. A line of fans snakes away from the sole ticket booth and the food stand is doing a brisk trade in packets of muesli "hand-signed" by the home team, Hamburger SV, or HSV. Hamburg's coach is ranting on the sidelines, accusing the referees of colluding with the other team's manager, claiming they spoke before kickoff. Meanwhile, the woman guarding Hamburg's goal is urging a teammate, "Don't just stand there, Meike, come on!"
The game is HSV versus 1. FFC Frankfurt, both teams members of Germany's Frauen-Bundesliga, or women's national league. The setting could just as easily be that of a men's game in a regional league, but that's an unwelcome observation here. These players reject comparisons with men's soccer. After all, they say, no one would measure a female sprinter against a man's time in the 100-meter dash.
The next Sunday, a game takes place at the Karl Liebknecht Stadium in Babelsberg, just outside of Berlin. There are 6,000 spectators inside the stadium and another 1,000 still pushing their way in. The German president and the governor of the state of Brandenburg are both in attendance and the fans are chanting and singing their club's song. Still, it's occasionally still possible to hear the players from up in the stands. "We need a guy over there," Potsdam's co-coach calls out. Babett Peter, playing sweeper, warns a teammate, "Man on!" And when she assigns another teammate to a specific opposing player, it's "Your man."
The Language of Men's Soccer
It is the language of men's football. The women and girls who play, now believed to number over a million in Germany and around 30 million across the globe, have adopted the rituals of their male counterparts -- the songs, the high-fives, the post-game celebrations in which they spray one another with champagne as confetti rains down. After the cup final in Cologne, Rolf Töpperwien, a men's football commentator, acted as an emcee for the winners from Frankfurt and made a very male joke when he mentioned the bank that sponsored the team's "chests," referring to their shirts.
Female football players want to be seen as independent and not comparable to their male counterparts, but they're also still looking for their own identity, their own profile. This summer, though, is the moment when women's football is expected to make it big. The German Football Association (DFB) has declared this "the year of the woman" and urged all fans to come together to make the upcoming Women's World Cup "a collaboration." When Germany organizes an international football tournament, it doesn't do half measures.
Doris Fitschen, manager of the German women's national team, believes this World Cup should help bring about at least semi-professional status for all players in the women's national league, as well as an increase in viewers, respect and professionalism in the sport. It has certainly never had a higher public profile -- all 32 World Cup games will be shown live on either ARD or ZDF, German public broadcasters.
The future of soccer is female, FIFA president Sepp Blatter declared in 1995, and it seems this future may finally be starting. Everyone is looking to Germany as the land of women's football, the country that has won the Women's World Cup twice and boasts the globe's strongest league. If a World Cup here doesn't achieve the "quantum leap" functionaries in the sport are talking about, nothing will. That's how they see it, at least.
Following in the Kaiser's Footsteps
Steffi Jones is the world's biggest advocate of women's football. There could scarcely be a better candidate to explain how to build up a successful national team than the woman who played for Germany 111 times, including at the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, and was national champion six times in Germany, as well as once in the United States with the Washington Freedom.
Jones, 38, was known as the "Kaiserin", or "Empress", during her playing days, because she marshaled her defense like football legend Franz Beckenbauer -- famously nicknamed the "Kaiser." Now Jones is stepping into a Beckenbauer-type role once again, serving as president of the organizing committee for the 2011 Women's World Cup and traveling to all the participating countries, just as Beckenbauer did when he fulfilled the same role for the men's World Cup in Germany in 2006. Jones is an ideal representative for women's soccer, not least because of her ability to inspire -- and because of her own history.
Jones says she wants to increase her sport's popularity around the world and to open doors in countries where women's rights are something of an unknown concept. She doesn't see herself as a "front woman," she says, and she's not a women's libber. She's simply speaking from experience.
- Part 1: Germany Hoping for Another Summer Fairytale
- Part 2: Lacking the Structures to Support Young Players
- Part 3: A Loss of Feminine Grace