A new challenge
After the success of the World Cup, the challenge now is to grow women’s game
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.
Canada's goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc makes a save during a practice session in Edmonton on Friday, June 5.