Will the future of German soccer wear a brassiere? If the organizers of Germany's first Convention on Women's and Girls' Soccer have their way, the answer is yes.
Germany's women beat Sweden to win the 2003 Women's World Cup
Women in Germany have played soccer (or football, if you prefer) for nearly 40 years. And they have reached some incredible goals along the way. German women have been European League champions more than once, have won bronze medals at the Olympic games in Sydney and Athens, and took home their first world title in 2003.
Of course, no one can claim that women's soccer is anywhere near as established as men's, in terms of ticket sales, career opportunities, celebrity, or public interest. And unfortunately, just wishing for something hard enough doesn't make it true.
Rhetoric vs. reality
But someone may want to tell that to Sepp Blatter. The president of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, chose the motto "The Future of Soccer is Female" for the first-ever Women's and Girls' Soccer Convention, which took place over the weekend in Cologne.
Germany's Viola Odebrecht (R) fights for the ball with Nigeria's Perpetua Nkwocha August 2004.
Rhetoric ran high among attendees. German Football Association President Theo Zwanziger, most likely referring to the recent successes of Germany's female national team, said: "The time is ripe to visibly increase the number of girls in our football clubs. We here at the top (of the organization) have done all we can to bring attention to the fact that girls can play football just as well as boys can."
But this positive outlook can be hard to sustain when compared with data gathered by sport researcher and sociologist Christian Wopp, from the University of Osnabrück. Of 3.5 million school age girls in Germany, just 220,000 play the game.
On the up side, the number of girl players has grown over the past five to eight years in Germany, and Wopp expects that trend to continue.
High hopes for school sports
"Around 5 percent of girls play soccer, compared to 38 percent of boys. But I think there is a potential for the number of girls who play soccer to double in the coming years," Wopp told Deutsche Welle.
Germany's Birgit Prinz led the women's team to Athens in 2004
The growth potential is mostly found in the immigrant population, Wopp said. He also has high hopes that the ongoing restructuring of the German school system will give a boost to the sport. As schooldays grow longer, more children will come in contact with school-run sports (as opposed to sports run by local nonprofit clubs, as is currently most often the case).
"The girls can try out this relatively new sport in the protective environment of the school," Wopp said.
However, Wopp noted that he expects the growth to stay mostly among younger girls. Unlike the case with men and soccer, it is very unlikely that a large number of women will continue to play the sport as they get older, Wopp said. The only way this could change is if some of the game's basic rules were altered -- by limiting body contact and using a slower ball, for instance. Rough play -- associated with injury -- would need to be replaced by an emphasis on fitness and technique.
A woman at the top?
For his part, the Football Association's Zwanziger said his interest in promoting women's soccer was kindled by his five-year-old granddaughter, Paula. Growing up in a football-rich environment, she will most likely expect to play one day, Zwanziger said.
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"We have done everything we can to give boys and girls the same conditions, to see that girls can play as well as boys," he said.
Would these "same conditions" someday extend into the upper levels of German football politics? In other words, could there ever be a female president of the German Football Association? Zwanziger doesn't reject the idea outright. "In football, nothing is impossible," he said.