The soccer World Cup in Germany 2006 is still a long way off. But to the surprise of some, there is another one happening right now. And Germany is doing rather well in it.
Something tells me that's not Michael Ballack
Come 2006, the world’s eyes will turn to Germany as the next soccer world cup kicks off with the home nation hopefully cheering their boys on to victory in the final game of the prestigious tournament. In just under three years, German soccer fans will get the chance to see their team attempt to go one better than their efforts in the World Cup of 2002 in Japan/Korea. For a sport crazy country, the countdown to that summer is almost too much to bear.
But for any soccer mad German casting an enquiring look across the Atlantic in the direction of Columbus, Ohio, there may be a surprise in store. Those who can’t wait to see Rudi Völler’s men trot out in search of glory in 2006 may find that World Cup glory is nearer than they think. The Women’s World Cup is well underway and the much fancied German team is progressing nicely.
Quarter finals reached in style
Germany's soccer coach Tina Theune-Meyer.
After storming to the top of Group C with maximum points after thumping a total of 13 goals and conceding only two, Germany is now prepared to do battle with Russia in the quarter final to be played on October 2. If they progress further, they will face either the United States, the current world champions, or Olympic gold medallists Norway in the semis. Tina Theune-Meyer’s team is seeded third in the championships and look in fine form as they head into the closing stages – not that many fans at home have noticed.
How, some may ask, can a nation of such dedicated soccer fanatics fail to be engrossed and enthused by the thought of their compatriots challenging for the most glittering prize in their chosen sport? The reason may be that, despite the fact that Germany’s women are five-time European champions and Olympic bronze medallists, women’s soccer fails to catch the imagination in the same way as the men’s game – at least with male supporters.
U.S. league suffers from overdose of sport
The popular game.
In Germany, soccer remains the number one spectator sport, unlike in the United States, where the once highly financed WUSA women’s soccer league recently announced that it was broke. There the game has to contend with the popularity of more established sports such as baseball, football – the American kind, basketball and the ailing men’s soccer league, possibly one of the reasons for the current poor state of the women's team.
But in Germany, women's soccer just isn't catching on. Maybe the age old battle of the sexes is to blame. While the men’s game has been promoted and supported both fanatically and financially since its inception, the women’s game has suffered at the hands of sexist administrations and male-dominated organizations for the same amount of time.
Considering women have been playing the game as long as men - Chinese frescoes from the Donghan Dynasty (AD 25-220) show women playing soccer – it seems more than a little unfair that the development of the women’s game has suffered in contrast to the explosion in popularity of the men’s.
German league banned in 1955
Following in the footsteps of the Qing Dynasty which stamped out women’s soccer during its reign during the 1600’s, the German Football Association (DFB) disbanded its own women’s soccer league hundreds of years later, echoing the feelings of both their English and Dutch counterparts in 1955 by agreeing that “the game of football is unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” It took almost twenty years before the women’s game was released from its shackles, a period which saw the German men’s team win two World Cups and one European Championship.
European Champions but does anyone care?
However, in the years since the domestic women’s league was reinstated, the game has grown in Germany, despite remaining a poor relation to the male Bundesliga. The success of the national team and the impact German players have made in the WUSA league -- a few of the female stars are actually known by name -- have contributed to the comparative rise of the Women’s Bundesliga and a change in public perception.
Attempts at gender balance
In the 1997/98 season, the structure of the Women’s Bundesliga changed to mirror that of the men’s in an attempt to redress the balance. Abandoning the north/south two-tier structure that had been in place since 1991, the league presented itself as a cohesive body and also adopted the same time span of game played by the men, extending the women’s match to a full 90 minutes.
The subsequent professionalism extended to the running of the national team and since the amalgamation of the Women’s Bundesliga, the German team has achieved much in the way of success and the promotion of the women’s game. According to the 2001 DFB statistics, there are 841,817 registered female players in Germany. Women’s soccer is, indeed, stronger than generally believed (at least by men!).
So, for soccer junkies who can’t wait until football comes home in 2006, a little appreciative, manly support should be offered in the direction of Germany’s women as they contest the world’s best for the pride of their nation.