Growing the game
Question becomes how to keep ball rolling after successful World Cup
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 Wasserman 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, understood the importance of being role models and to inspire young kids.
“They set a great example and many, many women have followed in their footsteps, not just Americans,” he said.
Certainly the outpouring of affection from spectators for all the teams at the World Cup was remarkable.
“I think the players feel more real to them, they’re more approachable,” Levy said. “When was the last time you saw players from the EPL (English Premier League) sign autographs after a game?”
Women still don’t get rich playing soccer. Canadians do better than most, however.
The lucky ones got carding money from Sport Canada, a contract from the Canadian Soccer Association to play in the National Women’s Soccer League and undisclosed World Cup compensation from their national governing body.
The federal government said 50 women soccer athletes shared $645,790.11 in 2014-15 through its Athletes Assistance Program. In terms of the World Cup team, that ranged from $3,600 for Allysha Chapman to $24,000 for Emily Zurrer.
The even luckier ones, like captain Christine Sinclair (who got $18,000 from Sport Canada), can also draw on endorsements.
Zach Wilson and Bailey Simpson each doubled up and won the male and female 100and 200-metre sprints, respectively, at the Athletics P.E.I. provincial championships Saturday in Charlottetown.
Wilson crossed the finish line in the 100 metres in 12.06 while Simpson finished in 13.09.
In the 200 metres, Wilson ran a 25.40 and S im p s on clocked a 26.98 in their victories.
Ma lco lm Gilman went four-for-four, winning the midget men’s shotput (10.82 metres), discus (36.21 metres), hammer throw (31.74 metres) and javelin (40.14 metres).
In other racing results, Adele Arsenault won the women’s 400 metres in 1:07.77 and Jeremy Neuffer and Luc Gallant duelled wire-to-wire in the midget men’s 1,200 metres with Neuffer winning in 3:37.46.
Evan Gallant posted a personal-best time of 2:11.73 in the midget men’s 800 metres.
Neuffer ran 6:14.44 in the men’s 2,000 metres and Luke Mairino won the 3,000 metres in 10:41.57.
Matthew Kinch from Tignish jumped 1.9 metres in the senior men’s high jump, a personal best and just .05 metres short of a provincial record.
The Atlantic championships take place July 25 and 26 in Charlottetown, followed by national Legion Hershey youth championships Aug. 7 to 9 in Ste. Therese, Que.
United States’ Amy Rodriguez, foreground, celebrates with teammates Shannon Boxx, left, and Whitney Engen, centre, as Japan’s Mizuho Sakaguchi, right, looks on after the U.S. defeated Japan to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup final Sunday in Vancouver.