Grow­ing the game

Ques­tion be­comes how to keep ball rolling af­ter suc­cess­ful World Cup

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY NEIL DAVID­SON

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.

CP PHOTO

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.

Simp­son

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