Women’s World Cup alive and kicking
Germany is currently hosting the sixth Women's World Cup. It's attracting the crowds, but will it ever catch up with the men's game in global appeal?
England's women face Japan today. They need just a draw against a team so skilful they've been compared to Barcelona, to make it to the quarter-finals of the 2011 Women's World Cup.
Women's football is on the up. 'Women should be in the kitchen, the discotheque and the boutique but not in football,' said English club manager Ron Atkinson in the 1980s. But times have changed.
The opening match between host country Germany and Canada was watched by 72,000 fans. And when the tournament kicked off, 80% of the tickets – 700,000 – had already been snapped up.
International TV coverage is giving the competition a high profile, with Germany strong favourites to win. They've won the last two World Cups, which, like the men's version, take place every four years.
Women's football in the UK is also in good shape. An average 151,000 amateurs play every week, making it the biggest women's participation sport.
There's also change at the professional level with some players now receiving central contracts from the FA. It may only be £16,000-a-year – peanuts compared to the millions made by their male counterparts – but it's a step in the right direction.
When Hope Powell, now manager of the England team, used to play for England, she had to sleep on a gym floor before matches. Now the accommodation for the international team is 'first class'.
So how will the women handle Japan? 'Our plan is to get tight,' says Rachel Unitt, one of the players. 'The main thing is reduce the gaps between them, to press them and give them a bit of a kick. I don't think they like the physical battle.'
But women's football still seeks public credibility. Provocative journalist Rod Liddle says: 'They are absolutely useless at the sport. It's like watching a crippled flamingo chasing a balloon on ice.'
Michael Antwerpes, a German sports commentator revealed what he thought during the tournament's opening game: 'It's the Women's World Cup,' he said on air, 'but it can still be fun nevertheless.'
Can women's football emerge from being a niche sport to one with global appeal?
It's slower and less physical than the men's game – but that's also true in tennis and athletics, where men and women attract equal crowds.
And women's football is new. The first World Cup was only 20 years ago, in 1991. To catch up with the popular male version, perhaps the sport just needs time, controversy – and heroines. A female Messi or Ronaldo and suddenly the world will be watching.
- 'Women's football will never compete with male game as a spectator sport.' Do you agree?
- The German women's football team posed for a calendar. Should women use sex appeal to promote a sport?
- Come up with five reasons to watch women's football or five reasons not to watch it.
- Research the pay of some prominent male footballers and write a short article arguing either in favour or against the contrast with the level of professional fee paid to England's women. Should the men be paid for drawing bigger crowds, for instance?
Some People Say...
“Women's football will only deserve attention when the best female players are as good as the best male ones.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What are the crowds like for women's league matches?
- Not great. Germany has the best national team but a women's league match there attracts, on average, around 830 spectators. A men's game typically gets more than 42,000.
- Is it true the English FA banned women's football?
- They did, yes. In 1920, 53,000 people packed into Goodison Park to watch St Helen's Ladies play a team picked from the local munitions factory. But amid male fears this might affect female fertility, the FA banned women from playing on pitches affiliated to it and this ban lasted until 1971. The female game is playing catch-up.
- Which are the best women's teams in the world?
- Tournament favourites are Germany, with Brazil and USA next. Past winners are the USA twice, Norway once, and Germany twice. China, Sweden and Brazil have all been beaten finalists.
- Central contracts
- These are contracts given by the English Football Association to the best female players, to enable them to train more without financial worries. They are also used in the world of rugby and cricket for the best male players.
- Football Association. Each country has their own