A new chal­lenge

Af­ter the suc­cess of the World Cup, the chal­lenge now is to grow women’s game

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY NEIL DAVID­SON TORONTO

Ka­rina LeBlanc re­mem­bers play­ing in front of empty stands, so the well-at­tended sta­dium love-ins that em­braced the Cana­dian team at the Women’s World Cup were some­thing spe­cial.

“When I first started, it used to be I could count on my hand how many peo­ple were are the game and it was usu­ally friends and fam­ily,” the vet­eran goal­keeper re­called. “Now to have scream­ing kids — just the other day I had a 40-year-old man walk up to me and he was in tears. He said ’ You guys just make me so proud to be Cana­dian.”’

With the World Cup over, the job now is to build on the suc­cess of the tour­na­ment and grow women’s soc­cer.

Dan Levy, a North Carolin­abased player agent with Wasser- man Media Group, had high hopes for this World Cup. As he ex­pected, the U.S. ral­lied be­hind its team while Canada em­braced the home side. But he said the depth of in­ter­est in the en­tire tour­na­ment took him by sur­prise.

He be­lieves the Cana­dian com­pe­ti­tion, from its fine play to good sports­man­ship, won over many peo­ple.

“I do think that the level of play, so­phis­ti­ca­tion in tac­tics, ob­vi­ously their tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties, is stronger than ever. And that bodes well for the fu­ture, it re­ally does.”

Matthew Buck, di­rec­tor of player man­age­ment for the Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion that rep­re­sents the English team col­lec­tively and about half the World Cup ros­ter in­di­vid­u­ally, said Eng­land’s trip deep into the tour­na­ment was re­flected back home by the in­crease in media re­quests for fe­male pros who weren’t part of the Eng­land team.

And with the Olympics only a year away, women’s soc­cer can look for­ward to another high­pro­file tour­na­ment around the cor­ner.

“Big events do pro­vide a unique plat­form that oth­ers can’t ... Fans grav­i­tate to­wards great games, great play­ers. They want to be inspired,” said Levy, whose com­pany has deep soc­cer roots.

South of the bor­der, Fox smashed records with its cov­er­age of the U.S.-Ja­pan fi­nal (25.4 mil­lion view­ers), eras­ing the pre­vi­ous U.S. soc­cer mark of 18.22 mil­lion for the U.S.-Por­tu­gal matchup at last year’s men’s World Cup.

And the Fox num­bers were pos­i­tive across the board.

“They’re re­ally pleased with how things have gone and I think that’s a tes­ta­ment to peo­ple car­ing about the event,” said Levy. “I think it’s still hard, whether it’s this coun­try or abroad, to sus­tain it week in and week out, cer­tainly at the level we’re used to on the men’s side.

“But it does show that coun­tries and fans will rally round big events. And that’s ex­cit­ing be­cause that hasn’t al­ways been the case for the women.”

The women’s game has a lot go­ing for it.

Sim­u­la­tion, which is a plague on the men’s side, is far less preva­lent among the women who just seem to get on with the game. And fans love them. Levy points to the ground­break­ing 1999 World Cup in the U.S. The vic­to­ri­ous Amer­i­can team, whose star-stud­ded ros­ter in­cluded Mia Hamm, Christie Ram­pone, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Michelle Ak­ers, and Brandi Chas­tain to name a few, un­der­stood the im­por­tance of be­ing role mod­els and to in­spire young kids.

CP PHOTO

Canada's goal­keeper Ka­rina LeBlanc makes a save dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion in Ed­mon­ton on Fri­day, June 5.

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