In less than three months the sixth FIFA Women’s World Cup will kick off in Germany. For the first time, as a run up to the tournament, FIFA and the local organizers have joined together to make appearances in each of the 15 countries that qualified for the quadrennial event. Germany gets automatic entry as the host nation for a total of 16 teams. The tour made a stop in Washington D.C. this week.
The United States was the 13th of the 15 nations being visited on the welcome tour, which began in December in Sydney, Australia. It is being led by Tatjana Haenni, FIFA Head of Women’s Football Competitions, and German Local Organizing Committee President Steffi Jones.
Haenni said they wanted to use this opportunity to help develop women’s football. "One of the main objectives was really to get a bit of media attention in all those countries and to make sure the media in the country knows the team has qualified and will go to Germany in the summer and will play a FIFA Women’s World Cup," Haenni said.
Haenni added that because the U.S. women are the reigning Olympic champions, have won the World Cup twice in 1991 and 1999 and are ranked No. 1 in the world, the United States is at a different level.
"Maybe for you here this seems to be completely normal, and you’re maybe satisfied with the media coverage. But I think we can tell you from the countries we’ve been now in between - especially as an example South America - women’s football has really a long way to go, and I think we can try to help them to develop the sport," Haenni said.
But the U.S. Soccer Federation is not resting on its laurels, recently hiring a technical director and a development director. Chief Executive Officer Dan Flynn says the plan is to continue to grow the women’s game at all levels in this country.
"Internally, we always start with, it’s still the game of soccer, so that part I think we have right. I think adding what we’re doing from the technical director and a development director is, in the assessment process, trying to dig into that a little bit deeper rather than go on an assumption. But we understand, in our country, the athletic side, the athleticism. We’re trying to teach more of the soccer side," Flynn said.
Former U.S. star player Mia Hamm, serving as an international ambassador for this year’s tournament, says the Americans are learning a lot about the game from the Germans, who have won the last two women’s World Cups. She said having FIFA and the German organizers conduct this tour is important.
"The fact that they’re here today, not only in our country, but have gone to [such countries as] Colombia, to Brazil to spread the game of soccer shows that they’re socially responsible, and they feel that responsibility to grow the game of soccer. And I know as a former player I’ll do anything to ensure that that happens," Hamm said,
German World Cup Organizing Committee President Steffi Jones, herself a former player for her national team, said more than half a million tickets of the 800,000 available have already been sold for the 32 games in the nine host cities around the country. And she added that the television exposure will be unprecedented for women’s football.
"We are sending [the broadcasts] in 200 countries. Our German television is going to show all the games, also like ESPN [the U.S.-based sports network], so that shows that the World Cup is really going to be shown worldwide. And that’s why we’re hoping that this World Cup is going to open doors, and is hopefully going to set a milestone," Jones said.
The sixth FIFA Women’s World Cup begins June 26 and runs through July 17, with two opening day games - one in Sinshiem between Nigeria and France, and the other in Berlin between Canada and Germany. The final will be played in Frankfurt.