Preparations for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 Germany ready – says Organizing Committee President

–A Report by Eric Singh, ANA Senior Editor

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“We are ready and raring to go” said Ms Stephanie “Steffi” Anne Jones, President of the Organising Committee (OC) which will host the 7th Finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Ms Jones was addressing correspondents attached to the Foreign Press Association of Germany (VAP) in Berlin today.

The kick-off is scheduled for 26 June 2011 with two matches. The early match in the Rhein-Neckar Arena (Sinsheim – Southern Germany) begins at 15:00 hours when Nigeria will do battle with France. The Olympic Stadium in Berlin will be the venue for official opening that same evening when hosts Germany take on Canada. The Stadium, with a capacity crowd of nearly 75 000, is already sold out. The finals will take place at the Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt/M on 17 July 2011 with a capacity for 40 000 spectators.

According to the President of the OC, the 16 teams (Germany as host qualified automatically) will play their matches in nine stadiums spread throughout the country with a total capacity of 300 000 seats. The tournament itself is expected to draw 1 million spectators to the playing fields. The OC will be spared the expenses of building new stadiums because, a number of those used for the World Cup in 2006, will be deployed for the 20Eleven Tournament.

Some of those areas which did not benefit from the event in 2006, have had their venues revamped like the one in Dresden. The qualifications for this tournament took place between April 2009 and November 2010. The Championship will kick off where the Final of the Men’s tournament ended in 2006 – Berlin. That will be the only match played in the German capital. The other 8 stadiums are due to host 4 matches each.

The list of those who qualified are: Australia, Japan and North Korea (AFC – Asia); Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria (CAF – Africa); Canada, Mexico and USA (CONCACAF – North, Central & Caribbean); Brazil and Colombia (CONMEBOL – South America); New Zealand (OFC – Oceania); England, France, Norway and Sweden (UEFA – Europe).

Steffi Jones, president of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany at the press conference in Berlin/Photo: Karin Singh

Ms Jones, who has been visiting all the areas to personally invite the successful teams, is pleased with the progress that is being made in women’s football. “On the other hand, there is still much to do in so far as encouragement, support and promotion are concerned. FIFA is mindful of this and is working towards creating the necessary framework and providing the facilities to attract young girls and women.”

Apart from FIFA, Ms Jones is of the opinion that a lot can be done by local authorities and football associations to help encourage the women in their quest. She quoted the example of Brazil. “The Brazilian women are world class players and their team is one of the favourites for this tournament, but at home, there is scant encouragement or promotion. The same can be said of many of the areas I visited including Africa. I will be happy to see 24 teams participating in the next tournament. Sure there will be lopsided results which will resemble a rugby scoreboard as was the case when we beat Argentine 11-0 at the last tournament in China. That is not the point. The idea is to get the women interested and moving forward which in turn could unlock a snowball effect. The idea must be to afford them international competition and experience which can be passed on”.

Ms Jones spoke of the great advances made in the game in Germany. “We have the potential to win the tournament thereby making it three in a row. We have the necessary international experience and individual players. Our infrastructure augurs well for the future with a strong reserve of up-and-coming players. We are very pleased with the development of women’s football here in Germany”.

Members of the media at the press conference/Photo Karin Singh

Be that as it may. The women in Germany also had to contend with male chauvinism. This applies to both the functionaries and the media. The situation prevailing in Germany as explained by Ms Jones did not fall like manna from heaven, or drop from a Christmas tree. It was fought for and this is the message that the OC President is trying to get through to the international community.

An example here is necessary. Steffi Jones was a member of the German team that participated in the tournament in 2003 which was staged in the USA. They were practically ignored by their football heavies and a large section of the media. Suddenly, these women reached the finals against Sweden. The President of the German Football Association, dropped everything and dashed to the USA to be present at the finals and posed with a huge grin when German Captain Birgit Prinz received the Championship Cup on behalf of her winning team.

That sorry incident did not end there. Their arrival back on home shores was just one of those things. That magnificent success was relegated somewhere in the back pages of the only weekly sports magazine in Germany. When they repeated their success with a 2-0 victory in 2007 over Brazil in China, the situation had drastically changed. History will be made if they repeat their two previous successes on their home ground. This will be a fantastic achievement when taking into account the official ban on women’s football in Germany was only lifted in October 1970.

Steffi Jones, who has a trainer’s licence, expressed the wish to coach a men’s team in the Bundesliga or Europe. She was responding to a question by a fellow scribe from Austria. “But”, said the lady, “at the moment I have other priorities and obligations”.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has stated that the world body needs to be “renovated”. This plan foresees women as members of the Executive Committee of the world body. Your scribe posed the question to Ms Jones if she would be willing to occupy such a post. “Yes, that would be great. I would be most willing to serve. I am a Honorary Member of the Women’s Commission in my capacity as the President of the OC. This is a temporary post. Maybe you could forward your suggestion to Mr Blatter”.

Why not? OC President Steffi Jones has fantastic credentials gained in the field of play. She has won everything in International, European, and national women’s football. “Not so”, she says, “I failed to win an Olympic gold medal”. She won the bronze medals in 2000 (Sydney) and 2004 (Athens). Ms Jones won the US Championships with Washington Freedom in 2003. Her winning titles reads like an encyclopaedia.

Steffi Jones was born on 22 December 1972 in Frankfurt/Main. She is the daughter of an American soldier and a German mother and her childhood was not a bed of roses. It was very difficult for a child with a dark skin. Nevertheless, she played soccer from the age of four in a boy’s team for ten years in her suburb. She still carries the name Schoko (chocolate) given to her by her playmates. Ms Jones’ first international match for Germany was in 1993 against Denmark in which they were defeated. Altogether Ms Jones played 111 matches for Germany before hanging up her playing boots in March 2007. The DFB appointed Steffi Jones to carry the baton of OC President in November 2007 and took office on 1 January 2008.

These are solid credentials that could open the path to greater heights for a woman who has successfully carried out important responsibilities assigned to her. It would be a great asset for the promotion of the sport in the international arena.

Asked if the 20Eleven will match the atmosphere which reigned in 2006, Ms Jones replied: “The atmosphere here is going to be different, reflecting the more family-orientated character of the women’s games. Matches will turn out to be huge picnics for families for families inside and outside the fields of play”.

“Generally”, concluded Ms Steffi Jones, “media interest is enormous. There are 450 national print journalists and 190 photographers. There were over 3 000 requests for accreditation. In addition, TV and radio teams, both national and international, will carry the games to the world”.