The elusive popularity of women′s football | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 20.06.2011
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The elusive popularity of women's football

Media, advertising and above all the German Football Federation are trying to make the upcoming Women's World Cup attractive. But the ladies of German football still struggle with prejudice and sexism in the sport.

A barbie doll in football regalia on a pitch

Football in Germany is seen as a men's sport

The German national women's football team doesn't have much to prove to the sports world as two-time world champions. To achieve the hat trick this summer, they even get to play the World Cup on home soil. But so far the German Football Association (DFB) and the media have seen limited success after trying for months to build up the summer's biggest football event.

Daniela Schaaf is a communications expert at the German Sports University in Cologne. Her team has been studying the importance of women's football in Germany for years and has unearthed some sobering statistics. TV does not yield good ratings for women's football; only major events such as European or World Championships women's league games have broad audience appeal. And in the seats the numbers don't improve - regular season games are often played to an audience of fewer than 250 fans.

In comparison, an average of 42,000 spectators attended the games of the men's Bundesliga in recent seasons. So why is women's soccer apparently garnering so little interest? One often hears the same argument: It may be pretty, but it's too slow and boring.

It's a man's world

Another reason, which seems much more plausible, is not so openly discussed. It's because soccer is a sport that was invented by men for men, Schaaf said. It concentrates only on male attributes, on the male body and masculinity.

German team on field playing Italians

The German women's team holds two World Cup titles

So the women's game is considered an attack on the last bastion of men. In fact, football long sought to eliminate anything feminine, which led eventually to the banning of women's soccer by the DFB between 1955 and 1970. When the women were allowed to play again, hardly anyone paid them attention.

"People still don't like to see women playing a men's game," Schaaf said. They've observed that women are insulted and are frequently on the receiving end of sexual discrimination.

This applies only to certain areas of the stadium - where the hardcore fans are, bawling songs and swinging big flags.

Two female football experts are the reporters Martina Knief and Sabine Töpperwien. They are the only women in Germany who comment on the men's soccer league games on the radio. They're tired of being asked if it was a long struggle to the microphone in the male-dominated circle of their colleagues. Martina Knief says she works a match "Martina Knief-style" and doesn't imitate any male or female colleagues.

"I present a (men's Bundesliga) Eintrach Frankfurt match the same way I would present the first women's league team from Frankfurt," she said.

Male-dominated media

Ninety-two percent of the workforce in the German sports editorial sector are male, Schaaf said. And much reporting on the sport is decided according to male standards of how to report on sporting events. Therefore, according to Schaaf, it is particularly important for women's football that more women are represented in the sports media.

A woman traps a ball

Despite proving their skills on the world stage, women in soccer have to fight for respect

"They simply have a different perspective on the game," she said. "Men always try to draw comparisons to men's football, even in their commentary, whereas female commentators really concentrate on the game."

With women's soccer, much more information needs to be conveyed within a short time, especially during a radio report in which the reporters have to replace the television cameras.

"When I say during a men's match, 'Podolski got the ball,' then I know that the ball is usually on the left side," explained Martina Knief. "If I say, 'Kerstin Garefrekes has the ball,' generally the audience doesn't know that she's on the right side. So I have to describe a lot more - where is the ball and who is on the ball."

Looking sharp

In fact, some of the national players are already well-known in Germany. The new generation of female soccer players often appears with their hair done and painted nails on the field, Daniela Schaaf said. They position themselves more often outside of sport in the entertainment media and do fashion spreads for women's magazines and commercials.

National player Lira Bajramaj says in her commercial for Nike: "If you look sharp, you shoot even sharper."

The footballers are always interesting for sponsors. And perhaps this mix of femininity and rough football can even arouse the interest of the male football purists.

Even if this summer's Women's World Cup live up to the "summer fairytale" Germans affectionately call the 2006 Men's Cup, greater interest is expected than at previous women's world championships. After all, 5.7 million viewers watched the German women's exhibition match against Norway on 16 June. If the weather cooperates, it is widely predicted this year's Women's World Cup but will be a great festival of football in Germany.

Author: Silke Wünsch / sjt
Editor: Andrew Bowen

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