Women’s game gets big boost at Euro

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

EN­SCHEDE, Nether­lands — The six-goal fi­nal of the women’s Euro in the Nether­lands capped an out­stand­ing tour­na­ment, prov­ing fe­male soc­cer is grow­ing across the con­ti­nent.

An in­crease in the num­ber of par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries from 12 to 16 raised over­all at­ten­dance to more than 240,000 spec­ta­tors at the 31 games, up from 217,000 four years ago — with all Dutch games sold out, UEFA said.

“We won­dered how big the tour­na­ment would be. We knew it would de­pend on how we per­formed, but we could hardly have dreamed it would be this big,” said Nether­lands coach Sa­rina Wieg­man.

The fi­nal drew a crowd of 28,000, which was much less than in 2013, but fans who paid ex­or­bi­tant prices for tick­ets on the in­ter­net at­trib­uted this to the lim­ited ca­pac­ity of En­schede arena.

“In Am­s­ter­dam or Rot­ter­dam it would be bet­ter, also for the women, if they could play at a big­ger sta­dium,” Dutch fan Thea Muss­che told AFP be­fore the fi­nal in which the host dou­bled Den­mark 4-2.

She and her hus­band got their tick­ets for 80 eu­ros ($95) each, against the high­est of­fi­cial price of 60 eu­ros, but prices on the in­ter­net climbed well over 100 eu­ros on the day of the match.

Tele­vi­sion rat­ings grew as well, and “record women’s Euro au­di­ences have been achieved in many mar­kets, in­clud­ing the Nether­lands, Den­mark and the United King­dom,” UEFA said in a state­ment be­fore the fi­nal.

Euro new­com­ers Aus­tria, which made it to the semi­fi­nals along­side Eng­land, sparked women’s soc­cer fever in the coun­try, with mil­lions watch­ing the games and thou­sands of fans show­ing up for a tri­umphant wel­come in front of Vi­enna’s city hall.

“It is in­cred­i­ble that women’s foot­ball has fi­nally found a place in so­ci­ety,” beamed Aus­trian cap­tain Vic­to­ria Sch­nader­beck.

“We are in­cred­i­bly proud be­cause it hasn’t al­ways been like this.”

Dutch striker Vi­vianne Miedema said she no­ticed in­creased in­ter­est from the pub­lic.

“We’ve seen al­ready in this tour­na­ment if we had a day off and we went on the street that a lot of girls and a lot of other peo­ple rec­og­nized us,” said Miedema.

“The tour­na­ment has been re­ally big, with all the lit­tle fans, it’s just amaz­ing that they wear the lit­tle T-shirts with our names on their back.”

Grow­ing qual­ity

Wear­ing an orange hat and hold­ing a Dutch flag, fan Maria Kentin said it was “very good that (women) get more ex­po­sure”.

“Men’s foot­ball is not do­ing re­ally well at this time so every­body likes women’s foot­ball now,” she added, point­ing out the Dutch men’s fail­ure to qual­ify for Euro 2016 and strug­gling in 2018 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Fe­male soc­cer can hardly com­pete with the men’s game in terms of money. A sur­vey pub­lished last week put the women’s tour­na­ment bud­get at $9.5 mil­lion com­pared to $360 mil­lion for the men’s Euro 2016.

The sur­vey found 50 per­cent of fe­male play­ers were not paid by their clubs, and 35 per­cent of in­ter­na­tional play­ers re­ceived no fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion for rep­re­sent­ing their coun­tries.

But the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity sug­gests the trend might soon change. Ear­lier this year in the United States, protest­ing fe­male play­ers forced their fed­er­a­tion to ap­prove a deal for a sub­stan­tial pay hike.

Be­sides, the qual­ity of the women’s game has grown re­mark­ably in re­cent years, said Eng­land coach Mark Samp­son.

“Ten years ago, there was a sig­nif­i­cant phys­i­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween the best teams and the rest of the teams,” he said.

“What’s hap­pened in re­cent years is that the teams phys­i­cally have matched up so the tech­ni­cal skills, the game and the stand­ing have be­come in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.”

His Dan­ish coun­ter­part, Nils Nielsen, said the in­creased com­pe­ti­tion was “very ben­e­fi­cial”.

PATRICK POST / AP

Vi­vianne Miedema scores the Nether­lands’ fourth goal dur­ing Sun­day’s 4-2 tri­umph over Den­mark in the Women’s Euro fi­nal in En­schede, the Nether­lands.

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