For more on women's football, see our Web log covering the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup, our diaries from the opening rounds of the 2003 event, an interview with the director of the WUSA documentary Grass Ceiling, as well as features on the women's game in Bolivia, Colombia and England.

See also the related postings at "Left Wing," our auxiliary "blog."

Coverings | Donning the hijab for a full 90


Iranian women in hijab sing at opening ceremonies of the West Asian Football Federation Women's Championship on 23 September. (Reuters)

Tehran, Iran, and Amman, Jordan | Several women's football competitions have concluded recently in the Arab world. The events again call on cross-cultural sensitivities to assimilate the reality of women competing in gender-segregated environments and in Islam-mandated dress. The fourth international Islamic Women's Games—incorporating 1,700 athletes from 40 countries, including, for the first time, an American (Scott Peterson, "In Iran, US Runner Joins the Races," Christian Science Monitor, 29 September)—concluded on 29 September in Iran. The women played futsal, as this has been the preferred form of the game since Iranian clerics authorized soccer for women in 1998. The first national women's football championship concluded in Pakistan at about the same time last week, drawing more notice in the world press than would have been customary for what the Pakistan Daily Times stereotypically branded a "catfight" at game's end ("Punjab Win Inaugural Women's Football Championship," 30 September). The BBC gleefully called the final—won by Punjab, 1–0, over a water-development-authority team at Jinnah Stadium in Lahore—a "soccer punch-up" given the 13 minutes required to calm disputes after a penalty kick.


Iran's Shihrin Nasri, left, competes during the final. (Muhammad Al-Kisswany | AP)

Iran lost 2–1 to host Jordan in the final of the West Asian Football Federation Women's Championship on 1 October. The Iranian women, as pictured at left, played in hijab and long pants, while Jordan played in shorts. This variance in itself illustrates the multiple interpretations of Islamic practice. Gertrud Pfister, in an essay on women and sport in Iran, makes clear that there are no prohibitions on girls' and women's sports ("Women and Sport in Iran: Keeping Goal in the Hijab?" in Sport and Women: Social Issues in International Perspective, ed. Ilse Hartmann-Tews and Gertrud Pfister [Routledge, 2003], 211). Sayings attributed to Mohammed recommend an active life, with running, horseback riding, swimming and archery mentioned specifically. Islamic concern for "one's body, cleanliness, purification and force" ultimately collides, however, with values confining women to home and family spheres. (The need for modesty extends to men also, with the Iranian football federation last year banning ponytails and "sculpted beards"; male athletes are to cover their bodies between the navel and the knees.) The general feeling appears to be one of progress for women in Islamic communities, with interest in sport on the rise and opportunities for participation expanding. The Times of London, for example, reported before the Islamic Women's Games on the entry of a football side from Great Britain. Girls participate in activities such as the West Ham Asians in Football Project. "[I]f you travel down to the playing fields of East London, it is likely that you will see hijab-wearing girls playing football with their friends and brothers, something that would have been unthinkable 20 year ago" (Matthew Syed, "Muslim Women Leading Gentle Revolution with a Football," 21 September).


Maud Watson, who in 1884 became the first women's champion at Wimbledon, models the tennis fashion of the day.

Although Indian tennis player Sania Mirza now and, before her, the Algerian runner Hassiba Boulmerka drew wrath for competing with legs uncovered, organizers of the Islamic Women's Games say the intent is to encourage women rather than to stifle them further. "We are seeking to empower and encourage Muslim women, who are absent from the international sports grounds due to their beliefs," says Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Hashemi started the pan-Islamic women's competition in 1993. Women from Iran have been able to compete in past Asian Games and Olympics in shooting and kayaking, in which covering the body does not present a barrier to competition. Lest Westerners tut-tut at these traditional ways, Syed in his Times article rightly points out that misogyny features in both the Quran and the Bible; Muslims, in general, remain more faithful to the literal word, although Roman Catholics, Mormons and the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States deny priestly ordination to women. And, on the matter of sporting apparel, Sarah Murray in an intelligent essay for the Women's Sports Foundation points out that female tennis players and cyclists in the West earlier had been confined in petticoats and corsets ("Unveiling Myths: Muslim Women and Sport," 16 January 2002). Islamic women athletes also share with their Judeo-Christian (and non-religious) counterparts a lack of representation in radio, television, print and online media. "Ambitious women's sports coverage remains a virtual oxymoron in the United States[,] where women have been competing for well over a century," Murray writes. "If we struggle for equitable media coverage of women's sports, imagine how the scenario is exacerbated in places where women's sports are in earlier stages of development."


Refugees from Somalia with Nike designers in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. (Copyright © 2005 H. Faber | Nike)

Update: An article in Women's E-News brings out the cultural importance of the Women's Islamic Games (Khadeeja Balkhi, "Islamic Games Highlight Camaraderie of Women," 30 September 2005). Some 10,000 attended the 18 events; the opening ceremony caused "huge traffic jams" and made news as male and female dancers performed together.

Nike has been active, at least since 2005, in working with Islamic women in Africa to redesign sporting apparel. In partnership with the United Nations refugee agency, designers have sought to improve women athletes' mobility and comfort while maintaining modesty. The test case was a group of Somali refugees in Kenya who played volleyball as a way to relieve stress. The New York Times reported:

Girls' sports are still a novelty in Somali culture, so much so that the volleyball players here have been denounced by sheiks for supposed unladylike acts, like running or extending their arms in the air, and gawked at by boys unfamiliar with seeing women doing much more than cooking or cleaning or carting water on their heads.

"Some people think that if girls play sports they are prostitutes," [Farhiyo Farah] Ibrahim said. "Our parents were embarrassed. They had bad feelings about girls playing outside." (Marc Lacey, "Where Showing Skin Doesn't Sell, a New Style Is a Hit," 20 March 2006)

Link to capsters.com
One of the outdoor designs available at www.capsters.com.

Dutch designer Cindy van den Bremen has created "capsters" within the volatile context in Holland, in which a majority of citizens view Muslims unfavorably (Leela Jacinto,'Hip' Hijab Takes On Dutch Prejudices," Christian Science Monitor, 17 April 2006). Van Bremen's work does not just extend to garments but to intercultural dialogue. She and photographer Giti Entezami have produced a book and exhibition, Delen van motieven (Sharing motives), that shows Dutch women in a variety of hijabs. Testifies Farah Azwai, an athlete at American Intercontinental University in London:

Before I had the capsters, I tried a number of things—I used to wear a bandanna and tried fixing my hijab in different ways but it wasn't very practical and I always had problems. The fabric and style is very modern, it totally suits my style—it goes well with my sports clothes, with brands like Nike, Adidas and Pineapple.

Genders | Switching sexes, switching sides


Delaney said "it would have been quite a blow to my sense of self" if she had been denied the right to play. (Peter Mathew | AP)

Hobart, Australia | Accelerated consultations between Soccer Tasmania and Football Federation Australia have cleared Martine (née Martin) Delaney to play in the top flight of a Tasmanian women's league. Delaney had gender-reassignment surgery two years ago and—as a former player for a Tasmania men's side, Metro Claremont—decided this season to join Clarence United of Rosny Park as a defender. "Most of the people who are in administration and on committees in the clubs are men that I played soccer with and against 20 or 25 years ago," said Delaney, 47. "I thought many of them might recognise me—and they did" ("Sex Change Decision Sets Precedent," Australian Associated Press, 23 June). Three clubs in the first division queried Soccer Tasmania about Delaney's right to play. To the authorities' credit, they consulted relevant law, especially the Tasmania Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998, before addressing Delaney's special case. "It clarifies to the whole range of sporting organisations that you cannot bar someone from competition on the basis of their gender identification," said Soccer Tasmania chief executive Martin Shaw (Matthew Denholm, "Transexual Allowed into Women's League," The Australian, 23 June). Delaney said that, due to her age and to having taken estrogen, she had no advantage over other players : "Some of the girls who've taken out chunks of my legs with their boots . . . have much bigger frames than me."

-Isms | Lasses leave lockers, looking lovely


The England women's side was the toast of Westminster on 21 June. (FA.com)

Manchester, England, and Philadelphia | Remarks by UEFA President Lennart Johansson appear to have added injury time to the aftermath of the recently concluded European Women's Championship (James Ducker, "Sexist Claims Are Rejected by Johansson," The Times [U.K.], 18 June). The comments do not bear repeating—suffice to say that they include the words "sweaty," "rainy weather" and "dressing room"—but they lead us to wonder how competent Johansson and Sepp Blatter before him are in English. They speak the language well, but it is not their first language. These multilingual gents now have found that obfuscation becomes more difficult when venturing beyond the mother tongue. Hence, perhaps we received a more accurate rendering of their beliefs than we would have otherwise—a disturbing thought. If one's definition of "sexism" includes creating a bind of "double negativity" for victims, consider the dilemma facing women footballers: encouraged by FIFA and UEFA leaders to look feminine (are men asked to look masculine?), yet yellow-carded, as was Norway's Solveig Gulbrandsen, for lifting her shirt above her head during a goal celebration. At least rules on the field are applied consistently, while the women's game off the field still receives mixed messages.


The Rutland High School girls' team in Vermont is all-white. But what does it say about U.S. soccer? (rutlandhs.k12.vt.us)

A second entrenched "-ism"—racism—has been in the news. For close to two weeks The Guardian website has touted its report on racism in American soccer (Steven Wells, "Racial Divide Driving a Wedge into Soccer's Grass-roots," 17 June). We have no doubt that the thesis—that American soccer is overwhelmingly white—is true. But Wells's statistics are slight. For instance, he queries why there aren't more African American sides in Philadelphia, which is 40 percent black. "[T]he segregation of US cities still shocks," Wells writes. "And nowhere is this divide more obvious than in US soccer. No one is keeping statistics on just how effectively working class African-Americans have been excluded from America's grass roots soccer explosion. But everyone is agreed that US soccer is . . . hideously white." Notice the unqualified use of "nowhere," "no one" and "everyone." To us, segregation and the resulting monoculturalism are felt at every level of American life; to single out soccer seems like treating a symptom rather than the disease. Wells's article needs a conversation partner. But up to this point, U.S. soccer authorities have met the indictment with silence.

Academics | Questioning the age of separation


The title of Williams's book is drawn from the saying of Oscar Wilde: "Football is all very well a good game for rough girls, but not for delicate boys."

Preston, England | Rare is the day when academic conferences make headlines. But that has occurred even before today's start of the "Women, Football and Europe" conference at the University of Central Lancashire's International Football Institute. Jean Williams of De Montfort University and author of A Game for Rough Girls? A History of Women's Football in Britain (London and New York: Routledge, 2003) told reporters that her keynote address today would recommend an end to strictures in England's Football Association separating male and female players at age 12 ("Coach Kicks Off Football Debate," BBC Leicestershire, 11 June). No doubt Williams will make, as demonstrated by her book, many other arguments, but the mere suggestion of tampering with gender separation in sport treads on sensitive ground. Inequality in sport is deeply embedded, Williams says, "encapsulated by the use of the very term 'women's football.' " Nevertheless, media have delighted in the emergence at the ongoing UEFA Women's Championship (see our report) of 17-year-old England winger Karen Carney. Although England has since been eliminated, comparisons were drawn between Carney and Wayne Rooney, heralding her "uninhibited physicality" (Paula Cocozza, "Carney in a Class of Her Own," The Guardian, 8 June). Writers also noted the string of expletives that burst forth when she scored a stoppage-time winner against Finland on 5 June. She later was chided by her mother.

Supporters | Demanding their right of entry


Women protesters after gaining entry into Azadi Sport Complex on Wednesday. (A Daily Briefing on Iran)

Tehran, Iran  | Officially the Iranian government permitted one small group of female supporters to attend the World Cup qualifier with North Korea on 3 June—this was as long as they remained segregated and followed Islamic guidelines on dress (Robert Tait, "Iranian Women Kick Out against Football Ban," The Guardian, 6 June). But the bigger story was some 200 women forcing their way into the venue on 8 June after spending hours chanting, "My right is also a human right" (Nazila Fathi, "Iranians Cheer 1–0 Win and Trip to World Cup," New York Times). The leg of women's activist Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh was broken as guards tried to close a gate (Golnaz Esfandiari, "Women Defy Ban, Attend Soccer Match," Radio Free Europe). "Many young women are in love with football but they are frustrated that they cannot come to watch," says Niloofar Ardalan, among the some 20 women—all participants in a women's indoor football league—allowed to spectate at the North Korea qualifier. The issue appears to carry political traction, as pundits say. Activism on the issue has persuaded the front-runner in the 17 June presidential election, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, to support ending the ban on women's attendance. But the women seem to be outpacing the politicians. With Iran qualifying for the 2006 World Cup finals in its 1–0 victory Wednesday over Bahrain, girls and women joined the fervent street celebrations (see a collection of photos by Arash Ashoorinia and coverage in The Scotsman). Expatriate Iranian author Azar Nafisi recalls the atmosphere following qualification for France 1998:

[M]illions of Iranians spilled into the streets, dancing and singing to loud music. They called it the "football revolution." The most striking feature of this "revolution" was the presence of thousands of women who broke through police barricades to enter the football stadium, from which they are normally banned. Some even celebrated by taking off their veils" ("The Veiled Threat," The New Republic, 22 February 1999, 29).

Update: Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei on 8 May 2006 reversed a decision two weeks earlier by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, saying that "the presence of women and families in public places promotes chastity," had temporarily lifted the ban on women's attendance at football, The ban has been in place since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Female players interviewed by National Public Radio ("Iran Bans Women from Attending Men's Soccer Games," 17 May 2006) feared that the policy switch would make it harder for women to gain right of entry in the future. Women's advocate Abbass-Gholizadeh had claimed the original decision as a victory for the women's movement in Iran, but nevertheless pushed for women's access to all public places. "Some places in Iran are generally designated 'For Men Only,' " she told Radio Free Europe.

That some of the protests in 2005 were staged as part of filming for Jafar Panahi's Offside is hinted in a report of a screening at the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival. The film is classified as a pseudo-documentary, using non-professional actresses that Panahi disguised as men to stand outside the stadium. "The women refuse to accept the fact that they are not permitted to see the game. They revolt, they bicker, they clown about and deny they have infringed a law. . . . One of the women swears like a fishwife, using just those words from which the women are supposed to be protected." See 17 February 2006 for more.

Skellefteå | The once and future home of women’s football?


Tiffeny Milbrett arrives in Sweden, to the surprise of at least one fellow traveler. (Sunnanå SK)

Skellefteå, Sweden, and Manchester, England | Tiffeny Milbrett got off a plane in the hamlet (pop. 70,000) of Skellefteå and went through the rituals of new signees. She posed with her Sunnanå SK jersey—plastered with sponsors' names like a Formula 1 driver's—responded to questions beneath the flash of TV lights and, in our favorite variation, juggled a football beside an idle baggage carousel. We are not certain, but a security guard may be standing in the distance. (Video of the 31 March arrival is available along with Q&A with Thomas Hedlund of Norra Västerbotten: "Sunnanås nya stjärnspelare har landat.") Milbrett says the airport's one runway is "kinda cute."

It might be tempting to say that Milbrett and other Americans (see table) are in forced exile in Europe with the demise of the Women's United Soccer Association. But this is what women players have always done: to seek out opportunities where they exist, and even where they do not. And Europe—with the ninth official European Championships to begin Sunday in Blackpool and Manchester, England—has become the most dynamic zone for women's club football.

FC Energy Olympique Lyonnais Djurgården/Älvsjö KIF Örebro Malmö FF Sunnanå SK

Building on firmly established football cultures and club infrastructure, much is on offer for the free agent looking for a home. This is especially true for Americans, whose senior women's national team—under a new head coach, Greg Ryan— has not assembled since the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March. A friendly with Canada at the end of June was only recently scheduled.

Historically, Europe—with Scandinavia far in the lead—has been the most consistent in providing a training environment for high-level women players. Taking Sweden as an example, the first women's football league formed in 1950 in Umeå, a northern town of some 95,000 (see note 1), although historians date the first Swedish women's team to 1917. The latter was organized initially to play gubblag or "old-boys' " sides. As in England and other outposts where male-dominated sport was becoming a leisure-time pursuit, opposition to women mounted. "There are not words strong enough to berate women's football—" penned the sports newspaper Nordiskt Idrottslif in 1918, "if the girls or their advocates want to be taken seriously." In England, the opposition to women playing before large crowds for charity, but also in organized competition on Football League grounds, developed into a ban on women playing on League-owned surfaces from 5 December 1921 to 29 November 1971—6 days shy of 50 years.

Significant to the inclusion of women's football in the sporting landscape has been the so-called Swedish model, in which some 22,000 sports clubs fall under the umbrella of the Swedish Sports Confederation and various sport-specific and regional groups. Local clubs, therefore—such as Milbrett's Sunnanå SK—function democratically and allow local expression of more widely held ideals. In the 1960s, for example, as in large areas of the West, the role of women in Swedish society came into question.

[P]eople questioned, among other things, the working conditions of industrial workers, nuclear families, traditional holidays, the authoritarian structure of universities, patterns of consumption (materialism) and so forth. The new women's movement criticized the gender order in society and the patriarchal and capitalistic structure that created and upheld this gender order. (Hjelm and Olofsson, "A Breakthrough," 196)

Related to these social forces and preexisting sport structures, Hjelm and Olofsson make clear that "the development of modern Swedish women's football was not a result of international influences (with the exception of the southernmost part of Sweden), and neither was it a process initiated by the [Swedish Football Association]. Instead, football spontaneously developed from below when hundreds, and after a few years, thousands of women began playing the game" (195).


Marta signs for fans. At a December 2004 FIFA gala honoring the world's best players, she found herself in tears: "When I was a little girl, I used to tell my Mum, 'I want to be the best player,' and now I'm here." (Umeå IK)

Southern parts of Sweden, Skåne in particular, were influenced by the women's game in Denmark. But places such as Umeå expressed their own dynamism. Umeå IK formed a women's team in 1985, a year after Sweden won the inaugural European championship. Umeå ranks among the strongest in Europe, having won the 2003 UEFA Women's Cup. They are tied for first with Malmö FF in the Swedish Damallsvenskan at the Euro break with Swedish greats Malin Moström and Hanna Ljungberg along with the player we consider the most brilliant in the women's game, 19-year-old Marta Vieira da Silva of Brazil, in their side. (We once saw Marta in the lobby of a Washington-area hotel, absorbed in the music coming through her headphones, oblivious that her hotel was within spitting distance of a famed underground parking facility in which Deep Throat, aka Mark Felt, passed classified information to earnest young reporter Bob Woodward 30 years earlier.)

But what about the state of the women's game in Europe in general? Some answers likely will come from a conference sponsored by the International Football Institute at the University of Central Lancashire, "Women, Football and Europe," from 13– 16 June. Thirty-three papers will be presented, including oral histories, discussions of racism in women's football and ideas on development. England captain Faye White has mentioned the problem of persistent comparisons between the men's and women's games. White says that the ill-advised parallels are keeping the women's sport down. "Women's football should be seen as a game in its own right," White says. "It might have the same rules but it's different. The two can't compete" (note 2).

We all need to start thinking differently about women athletes. Social structures in much of the world still do not accommodate their desires. As Elsie Milbrett-Parham, mother of Tiffeny Milbrett, told the New York Times at the time of the 1999 Women's World Cup, "A lot of men still feel we're supposed to be cooking the meals, waiting for them to come home. At least it's falling by the wayside" in the United States and other societies, primarily in the West. "We're all going to go out and have fun, then come home and cook and clean the house together."

There will always be girls like Milbrett and France's Marinette Pichon, who need to express their creativity on the pitch. Pichon says of her youth in Bar sur Aube, France, "I started kicking a football when I was five. I don't know why I did it. It was just something that happened—something inside me wanted to do it."

Notes

1. Much of the information on the development of women's football in Sweden comes from Jonny Hjelm and Eva Olofsson, "A Breakthrough: Women's Football in Sweden," in Soccer, Women, Sexual Liberation: Kicking Off a New Era, ed. Fan Hong and J. A. Mangan (London and Portland, Oreg.: Frank Cass, 2004), 182–204. A National Public Radio report suggests that feminism in the country might not have made as many advances as previously advertised (Jerome Socolovsky, "Swedes Back Away from Feminism," 12 August 2005). | back to text

2. Dan Warren, "Women's Game Faces Catch-22 Situation," BBC Sport, 31 May <http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/women/4573257.stm>. For a complete assessment leading up to Euro 2005, see Rose George, "Pitch Battle," Independent (U.K.), 21 May <http://sport.independent.co.uk/low_res/story.jsp?story=640017&host=18&dir=118>. Another issue is women footballers desiring to compete with men when opportunities are lacking. FIFA decreed in December 2004 that Mexico's Maribel Domínguez could not sign for Mexico second-division club Celaya.
Jemele Hill
Columnist Jemele Hill writes: "It seems the crime most female professional athletes have committed is they aren't scandalous or weird."
The logic behind FIFA's judgment? "Custom has been that men and women compete in different competitions" (Simon Kuper, "Team-mates from Mars and Venus," Financial Times, 16 April <http://news.ft.com/cms/s/c08c1bb2-add9-11d9-9c30-00000e2511c8.html>). That media representations of men and women in sport differ astronomically is without question. According to the Women's Sports Foundation UK, women accounted for 2.3 percent of images in sports pages of Britain's media (Natasha Woods, "Action Woman," Sunday Herald [Glasgow], 27 March <http://www.sundayherald.com/48692>). "The public has this problem when it comes to female athletes," writes Jemele Hill in The Orlando Sentinel. "We don't like them to make money as professionals. . . . It's like female athletes were permanently put in the feel-good story box and never let out. We love their hard-luck stories so much we decided to keep them hungry by failing to support their professional leagues" ("Public Loves Women Athletes as Amateurs, but as Pros . . . ," 4 April <http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/sports/11310378.htm>).  | back to text

Surfaces | SiyaThemba means ‘we hope’


The pitch, as it stands, in Somkhele, located in the Hlabisa municipality of KwaZulu-Natal. (Architecture for Humanity)

Somkhele, South Africa | If there are doubts that we live in one world, consider the intercontinental connections involved in the design competition for a girls' football pitch, named Siyathemba, in this eastern, primarily Zulu province. Members of the Somkhele community—youth footballers, nurses and teachers—selected the winner from among nine finalists. The group selected Swee Hong Ng, 29, originally from Singapore and now working at EDGE studio in Pittsburgh. Staged by Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit based in New York, the competition attracted more than 300 entries with finalists and honorable-mention submissions from Peru, Japan, Sweden, Mexico, Chile and Thailand. The facility, to be built beginning later this year, will become a youth center and venue for health education, aimed primarily at teaching students about HIV/AIDS. It will also host the area's first girls' soccer league. In Ng's renderings, the pitch is semi-enclosed with V-shaped terraces, covered in a canopy of native fabrics.

Update: View a video about the Siyathemba project, including interviews with Swee Hong Ng and organizers, at the Architecture for Humanity website (link opens QuickTime movie file). | back to top

Spinoffs | ‘Soccer Moms’ take the case


For a different demographic than Soccer Moms, Mexican satellite station EsMas has produced El juego de la vida. The show concerns a girls' football team that, judging from promotional materials, does not seem that interested in where it stands in the table.

Los Angeles | We would like to see the market surveys and focus-group results that have guided ABC television executives toward tentative placement of Soccer Moms on the fall prime-time schedule. Such data would yield insight into this critical demographic, the mighty suburban juggernaut seemingly eager to digest a Disney-produced serial about ethnically diverse moms moonlighting as private detectives. British TV also seems interested in the concept, according to the Times of London (Tim Reid and Adam Sherwin, "Soccer Moms Take a Trip Down Wisteria Lane"). To the U.K. audience, Reid and Sherwin explain the "soccer mom" phenomenon (see also 31 October 2004):

The soccer mom is typically seen driving her children to games or practice in the family's massive, petrol-guzzling SUV and is associated with cramming their days with a glut of safe social and sporting activities where, on the sidelines, they scream "encouragement." Soccer moms like soccer because it requires minimal equipment (trainers and ball, as opposed to helmet, shoulder pads and knee pads), causes fewer injuries and appeals to other mothers who also drive big cars.

Robotics | Spelman dogs go for the orange

Learn more about the SpelBots
The Spelman dogs run through their routines in the robotics lab on 6 May.

Atlanta | With the RoboCup U.S. Open scheduled to begin Sunday at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Spelman College—the SpelBots—is preparing for a historic entry in the four-legged AIBO league (see 4 April for background). Team adviser Andrew Williams, assistant professor of computer science, notes the uniqueness of the six-member Spelman team: one of the few consisting entirely of undergraduate students, the only all-woman side and the only representative from a historically black college. With the backing of NASA and Spelman College president Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman students began work on the robotics project last fall—programming their four AIBO ERS-7 dogs from scratch—and have since qualified with submission of a technical report (opens PDF file) for the RoboCup 2005 in Osaka, Japan, in July. Spelman plays first-round matches Sunday against Georgia Tech and the University of Texas (Austin Villa). Live video streaming is available beginning at 0930 (EDT) Sunday.

Exhibitions | An African freedom party


Sculptures on football themes formed part of the related exhibition. (www.redeporte.org)

Madrid | We were profoundly disappointed to miss "Fútbol en Africa," a four-day exposition that highlighted the annual AIDSport event. AIDSport, a project of Red Deporte y Cooperación (Sports and Cooperation Network), raises money to fight AIDS and gender discrimination in underdeveloped countries. Footballing objects from Africa were on display in rooms at the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Objects included paintings, sculpture, scarves, football shirts, engravings and, according to FIFA, "a collection of home-made footballs made of plastic and string" ("Fighting Discrimination and the Aids Epidemic," 29 April). (A boy from Burundi, Henri, here demonstrates how to make a football from plastic bags gathered from a rubbish pile.) The Madrid exposition included panels contrasting women's sports in Spain and the United States and on the transmission of values through sport, led by sociologist Javier Durán González of the Facultad de Ciencias de la Actividad Fisica y del Deporte (INEF). All this activity culminated in a football match between remaining members of the WUSA's Washington Freedom and the senior women's team of Spain. The Freedom won 1–0, although coach Jim Gabarra said the day "was about all of us growing as sportspeople and as human beings."

Women | Like Ruth, gleaning what they can

See more pictures of the team in Jordan
Waving the FIFA banner are members of the Bethlehem University women's side at the recent Arab women's football championship. (Bethlehem University)

Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Territories | Courage among locals and expertise from abroad have made women's football in Bethlehem come to life. On the initiative of two Bethlehem University students, Honey Thaljieh and Shatha Bannoura, a team formed in 2003. For lack of full-sized pitches they train on concrete. But women's soccer in the area has been boosted by England's Football Association, which has funded developmental teams and training. The side can only wear shorts on the training ground and must negotiate security barriers en route to tournaments. While many men have been supportive, according to the FA's Vicky Wayman, there are cultural impediments. "[I]n the Arab world you don't see too many women above the age of 22 or so playing football," says university athletics director Samar Araj Mousa (see Annette Young, "Bethlehem Bends It Like Beckham," Scotland on Sunday). "Once they finish university and are engaged to be married, there is enormous pressure for them to give up the sport." | back to top

Uniforms | How tight to draw the drawstring


South Africa's U-19 women's side. (safa.net)

Johannesburg  | Perhaps we should just tune out the latest nonsense from women's football functionaries—this time from South Africa—and concentrate on the positives. Ria Ledwaba of the South African Football Association's women's committee has echoed FIFA chief Sepp Blatter's call for tighter-fitting women's uniforms, commenting also on the need for South Africa's distaff players to participate in etiquette workshops: "We need to teach them etiquette and the importance of being a role model," said Ledwaba. "There are mothers out there who won't let their daughters play football because they think they'll start acting like boys." We hope this will not be a concern for the Somkhele girls football team. Team members, between 9 and 14, soon will be picking a winner of the international design competition for their new facility, the first for girls in KwaZulu-Natal. The proposals are featured in the current issue of International Design (Jessie Scanlon, "Playing for Keeps"). | back to top

Youth | A kickabout for Women's Day?

See the full-size version of this picture
The Mathare United U16 girls side competes against Hidden Talent in the 2004 event. (Chris Omollo)

Nairobi  | Fixtures will be released Friday for the second international girls' tournament organized by the Mathare Youth Sports Association—an appropriate news item to commemorate International Women's Day. The 17-year-old MYSA runs youth-development projects in the Mathare Valley, the largest slum in the Kenyan capital. At the beginning, the group admits, it did not know how to conduct meetings and was embarrassed by its tiny offices. In 2003, it was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Its girls' soccer program formed in 1992 (see the UN Population Council report, Letting Girls Play: The Mathare Youth Sports Association's Football Program for Girls, 2002), and an MYSA side has since competed strongly at a major tournament in Norway. The coming event, which takes place from 25–27 March, tries to elevate AIDS awareness. The theme is "Have You Heard Me Today?"

Indoors | Kennedy added to plate of Steamers


Football in a hockey setting. MISL rules call for power-play penalties, but no icing. Also, according to the rules for 2004–05: "A report of carpet problems shall be made to League Operations." (Mark Buckner, stlsteamers.com)

St. Louis  | The odd flirtations between men's soccer and female players continue. Lindsay Kennedy, 24, a former collegiate player for the University of Kansas and Harris-Stowe State College, has joined the Major Indoor Soccer League's St. Louis Steamers on a 15-day trial. Kennedy appeared in her first game on Saturday before 13,798, a record for this, MISL's fourth season. Kennedy is the fourth woman to play in a men's indoor league in the United States; some had speculated that the U.S. Soccer Federation, given FIFA's recent judgment barring Maribel Domínguez from playing with second-division Mexico side Celaya, might balk at the Steamers' plans, but they approved the arrangement last week. St. Louis management had threatened legal action were the contract voided.

We are not sure what Kennedy's involvement in the sport—an interesting hybrid of futsal and ice hockey—does for the perception of women footballers. Her presence seems curious in a side that revs its audience with the Steam Dream Dance Team. Of more concern in the women's game, though, is Manchester United's decision to eliminate its women's team in a potentially critical year: on 5 June, in the City of Manchester Stadium, England faces Finland in the home side's opener in the UEFA Women's Championship. Tickets for the event go on sale on Feb 21.

Update: The Steamers went 5–10 after adding Kennedy to the lineup and finished the season 20–20. As of the 2005–06 season, they are one of six sides remaining in the MISL, although player/coach Daryl Doran has made way for former indoor player and San Diego Spirit (WUSA) coach Omid Nomazi. Doran had been reluctant to sign Kennedy even with pressure from owner Michael Hetelson. "We were going good and chemistry is a big part of a team," said Doran, "and it was disupted a lot with Lindsay coming on board" (Mark Zeigler, "Sidelines," San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 October 2005).

McDonalds | We like when they’re called ‘inkings’


Christie McDonald of Newnan High School outside Atlanta signs for Duke. (Kimberly Smith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Atlanta | A rite of passage on the American sporting scene: young lads committing the next four years to a gridiron football academy, er, college. National Signing Day festivities merited an eight-page section in this morning's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but also an alternative look at a high-school senior, a female, signing a similar letter of commitment to play soccer at Duke University (Michelle Hiskey, "Same Glow in a Smaller Spotlight").

Christie McDonald, a striker, joins an ever growing contingent of talented women athletes—she intends to study international business—slowly changing the perception of soccer worldwide as "a gentleman's game played by thugs" (George Plimpton, introduction to The Norton Book of Sports, 1992). As one example, Duke, along with other universities across the country, gives athletes a forum as online diarists. The Blue Devils' women soccer players have homilized on the team as emblematic of St. Paul's discourse on the body in 1 Corinthians (12:14–26) and about a clinic that players led in Hawaii, including a taxonomy of participants: "the little kids who run toward the wrong goal, the 'balers,' the clueless ones, the sneaky ones, a motley crew playing for sheer joy . . . inspiration enough for us. . . ."

Ascents | Football first, then Everest


Training for the assault. (Leila Bahrami, Christian Science Monitor)

Tehran, Iran | With a team of female climbers preparing to scale Mount Everest, the Christian Science Monitor focuses on women's sports in Iran (Michael Theodoulou, "Iranian Women, Scaling New Heights, Eye Everest"). Tehran this week hosts the All-Women Games for Muslim and Asian Capitals, conceived by Faezeh Hashemi, vice-president of Iran's Olympic committee and daughter of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi. Six hundred women from 17 countries will participate; only marksmanship will permit male spectators. It is not clear if the Games will include football, although Hashemi's efforts earlier had led to a women's soccer federation in Iran and occasional games. (Update: On 30 May, Farkhondeh Sadegh, a graphic designer, and Laleh Keshavarz, a dentist, became the first Muslim women to make a successful ascent of Mount Everest. See the website Iran Mountain Zone for more.)

Bulwarks | Scandinavia takes on world?

Manchester, England | Traditional women's powerhouses Sweden, Norway and Denmark join surprise Finland as a Scandinavian bulwark drawn Wednesday into the eight-team UEFA Women's Championship. The tournament—by far the largest event on the women's football calendar in 2005—begins June 5 in the northwest of England. "I think the north west will take to it fantastically well," says England manager Hope Powell. "The more support the merrier and we do value any support we get."

Game becomes vital conduit for ‘Estrellas de la Linea’


The women pose for a curious press corps on 23 September. (Rodrigo Abd | Associated Press)

Guatemala City | News outlets over the past two months have seized on the story of Estrellas de la Linea (Stars of "The Tracks"), Guatemalan sex workers seeking to create a more human image of themselves through football. The idea came from filmmakers Jose Maria Rodriguez and Jesus Velasco, and from Guatemalan journalist Andres Zepeda. They are making a documentary film about life in "La Linea," a poor neighborhood on the edge of Guatemala City, where a railroad used to run. The women asked how to improve their lives and, specifically, how to gain custody rights of their children. Rather than standard-issue protests, the filmmakers suggested a football team: good for the film, one supposes, and good for the women.

As many as 17,000 women work in Guatemala's sex trade, one for every 150 men over age 15. Their popularity rivals the scorn they receive, such that, when Estrellas, in one of their early matches, allowed 18 goals—playing 5-on-5 on hardscrabble courts or bare ground—they still felt triumphant. "I felt so content after the game because [the opponents] were so polite to us, they didn't judge us and I liked how it felt to be treated with respect," said Susy Sica, 41, a Maya Indian and single mother of seven (Catherine Elton, "Prostitutes Win Respect with Soccer," Miami Herald, 31 October). The occasion contrasted sharply with the first fixture on 18 September against the girls' team from the American School of Guatemala. The identity of Estrellas at that point was unknown to officials of Futeca, a football academy and organizing entity for amateur men's, women's and youth leagues. Unknown, that is, until Estrellas started distributing flyers listing their demands for expanded rights. The league ejected Estrellas, citing the concern that, among other things, "the players' sweat might transmit sexual diseases" (Carlos Arrazola, "Guatemalan Prostitutes Booted from Soccer League," Agencia EFE, 25 September). Thus a story was born.

Following the EFE report, Guatemala's punditry weighed in. Dina FernandezDina Fernández, columnist for Prensa Libre, suggests that the women were exploited by the filmmakers and exposed to "public humiliation" so they might generate interesting footage ("El partido de las Estrellas," 27 September):

Porque empecemos por ahí: este episodio no se dio por generación espontánea. Los promotores de las "Estrellas" fueron a inscribir al equipo a Futeca, pero jamás informaron que las integrantes eran ejecutivas de la profesión más antigua del mundo, pues sabían perfectamente que no las hubieran aceptado.

Having said this, this episode did not begin spontaneously. The promoters of "Estrellas" went to register the team with Futeca, but they never said that the team members were practitioners of the world's oldest profession, knowing full well that they would not be accepted.

She is right that the women are ripe for exploitation, caught in the double-bind of poverty and illiteracy. The women earn as little as $2.50 per client. Yet by forswearing silence they expose themselves to ridicule. Some media outlets, such as the Richmond Times-Dispatch, see fit to mention the women's plight as part of the "lighter side of sports," under the headline "Working Girls." Thankfully, Claudia Virginia Samayoa of Siglo Veintiuno provides a corrective ("La resistencia a ser cocinadas," 27 September): "You cannot imagine the levels of discrimination and abuse the sex servants must survive."

The Estrellas with their actions have also brought attention to the shocking totals of women who have been murdered in Guatemala—more than 1,300 since 2001 (see Nick Caistor, "Prostitutes Play the Beautiful Game," BBC News, 30 October). The Organization of American States special representative laments that violence against women receives such little notice in traditional societies like Guatemala's. The Estrellas' media-aware advocacy thus seems all the more surprising, as when player Vilma Martinez notes the difference between appearances and reality in the sex workers' lives.

We put on makeup, get dressed up and laugh a lot—that's what the people see. How many of the people who discriminate against us know what it feels like when we shut the doors of our rooms and have sex with someone we don't want?

Update: National Public Radio aired a report on Estrellas on its Day to Day program (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4280862) on 12 January 2005.

We are all ‘soccer moms’

Shaunti Feldhahn, leaning rightDiane Glass, leaning left

Atlanta | Two days before the much-trumpeted "Day of Decision," "soccer moms" do not seem to carry the influence that they did in the previous two U.S. presidential elections. At least that is the pundits' wisdom—perhaps an oxymoronic turn of phrase. Consider the "she said"–"she said" opinionators Diane Glass and Shaunti Feldhahn, pictured above, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Glass portrays her "formerly party-happy sister now turned soccer mom" as having followed a seemingly inevitable path "with every child, every carpool ride" to Republican life. She is a soccer mom showing signs of having become a "security mom." To the right-leaning Feldhahn, who clearly is leaning right in the picture above, Bill Clinton was soft on terrorism while "Bush chose to get tough, and you know what? I'll take the tough version. So will most soccer moms" (see "Why Are Female Voters Ambivalent about John Kerry?").

We are most interested in the phrase "soccer mom" and its use as a class and lifestyle indicator. For perspective we turned to an article from the previous election cycle in American Demographics (John Fetto, "One Size Doesn't Fit All," May 2000, pp. 44–45). Fetto explains that "the term was coined by political pundits during the 1996 presidential election to identity white suburban mothers with Republican leanings," although the demographic, Georgia State political science professor Henry Carey reminds us, was credited for contributing to successive Clinton victories. It appears that, given Glass's commentary mentioned above and other sources, that the meaning of "soccer mom" has morphed somewhat, or these "soccer moms" themselves have transformed.

And just who are these women? That is tricky to define. One ad executive interviewed in the American Demographics article says "the term 'soccer mom' has become little more than a cliché." Working women with children, for one thing, also live in urban counties—not the suburbs. We think of our recent visit with Soccer in the Streets, a grassroots Atlanta organization bringing soccer to primarily Hispanic and African American communities. Director Jill Robbins says that mothers in Hispanic areas try to attend games when possible, but they do not have cars. In the more-traditional family structures, husbands often control women's movements and lifestyle choices. These are "soccer moms," but seemingly not those swaying elections. They are not white, and they do not drive minivans.

One thread through press coverage of the presidential race has been the seemingly lost concern for women's issues, as even Kerry pledges to "hunt and kill the terrorists wherever they are" (as if he personally could achieve this aim, by rounding up the ol' swift-boat crew). Women's issues are not esoteric and marginal, but relate to health, fairness and day-to-day survival. We get a different picture of women from Democratic pollster Ethel Klein, for example (see "Gender Politics," PBS Online NewsHour, 12 October):

Women are the canary in the coal mine; they have a real sense of what's going on in the economy because they have the low-wage work and low-benefit jobs. And they see what's happening to the price of milk and they watch the credit cards and see how much in debt they are.


The Library Journal (1 May) cites Jennifer Apodaca's Ninja Soccer Moms for its "flighty but feisty heroine" and "frothy, non-stop action."

It seems, as these musings continue, that terminology such as "soccer mom" might obscure more than it illuminates. The phrase's emergence probably says more about the popularity of football in the United States—17.6 million participants in 2002—than it does about political reality. The phrase has given blessed license to satirists such as Jennifer Apodaca, who writes in Ninja Soccer Moms of a widowed, single business owner, Samantha Shaw, who takes on embezzlers from a local soccer club. Intrigue ensues. And we like the humorous take of Barney Saltzberg's Soccer Mom from Outer Space, about the mom who dresses for football matches as a "giant cheerleading pickle." That the joke resonates means that soccer is a cultural phenomenon in the USA—as former National Basketball Association player Bob Bigelow recently told the New York Times, "Soon we'll have prenatal soccer in this country." But the women cheering us on are proving anything but one-dimensional.

Other sources: See the Soccer Moms for Peace (www.soccermomsforpeace.org) website, global in outlook. If we must stereotype this soccer-mom demographic, this is the stereotype we would choose. See also the 15 February 2004 gleanings entry on Paul Muldoon's soccer-mom poetry.

Professional women’s football | Not a ‘cause,’ but a business


Rebekah Splaine of the W-League's New England Renegades. She had two assists playing for the reconstituted Boston Breakers on 19 June. (onlyagame.org)

Carson, California | Corporate-speak has leaked into the headquarters of the Women's United Soccer Association, enough to dampen some shoes. "It has an important social part, but the WUSA is not a cause," says Tony DiCicco, the former league commissioner, now listed as a management consultant. "I don't want it to be a cause. It has to be a business" (Michael Klitzing, "It's No Apparition; It Really Is the Spirit," North County Times [Calif.]). DiCicco's comments came on the eve of the second of two league festivals, intended to precede what DiCicco calls a "soft relaunch" in 2005 and a full return in 2006. If DiCicco's business-first approach works, then we are all for it. (See Pam Schmid, "Women's Pro Soccer Leagues Face Uphill Battle," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 20 June, for a recent assessment of the WUSA's chances.)

Much of the media attention on the defunct women's league has been directed toward ex-players and their diverse pursuits. Many are still playing, in the W-League and the Women's Premier Soccer League (listen to the story on WBUR Boston's Only a Game, 22 May, and to the update on 3 July; the second link opens the Real Media Player). "In the meantime," the Washington Post writes while tracking down members of the last league champion, the Freedom, "many former players are adjusting to a new life of standardized hours spent amid cubicles and telephone headsets and office supplies" (Dan Steinberg, "Coping with the Loss of Freedom," 13 June). The Freedom, like other WUSA teams, are keeping themselves together with informal training sessions and scrimmages. Washington has scheduled a friendly for 14 July with Nottingham Forest Ladies Football Club (see Beau Dure, "League in Limbo, but Games Go On," USA Today, 24 June). The taste of professional sports appears to have changed those who were involved. In the Washington Post account, we learn that ex-Freedom player Jacqui Little wept as her boyfriend, D.C. United goalkeeper Nick Rimando, began training for the season. And former U.S. international striker Tiffeny Milbrett suggests that the taste of professional life with the New York Power helped lead her to leave the senior national side:

I'm an adult. I'm 31 years old. I've played maybe a 1,000 more games in the modern era of the women's game than April [Heinrichs] has, and I feel like there's things that need to happen in order to facilitate an environment for professional women soccer players. If that environment isn't going to be professional and if that environment isn't going to allow me to be the player that I am, then it's not worth it. (quoted in "Where's Tiffeny?" Associated Press, 20 June)

Puns ahoy! Women’s game gets fleeting mention


Julie Fleeting, in Arsenal yellow, buries her third goal in the 83rd minute. (The FA)

London | Yesterday provided another opportunity to take stock of women's football some eight months after the WUSA's decline. On a wet afternoon at Loftus Road, more than 12,000 turned out on a holiday, shelled out £3 and thrilled as Julie Fleeting tallied three, her Arsenal side defeating Charlton 3–0 in the Women's FA Cup Final. The 23-year-old Scotland international suited up despite a leg injury incurred the previous day in a Euro 2005 qualifier—a 3–1 loss to Germany in which she scored her 88th international goal. The Guardian's Georgina Turner, however, could not see the bright news through the clouds, lamenting that the women's game is declining, evidenced most recently by the return of one of England's best female sides, Fulham, to amateur status ("The Golden Era Loses Its Shine").

The fact that Fleeting played yesterday's final less than 24 hours after putting in a full 90 minutes for Scotland against World Champions Germany speaks volumes about the lack of equality between the two sides of the sport—imagine the furore should Thierry Henry have to do the same. It just would not happen. ¶Women's football also suffers an inescapable Catch-22 situation—inescapable at least as long as the game's current economic frailty lasts. Turning UK women's football into a professional sport could only raise standards, diminishing suggestions that the game is vastly inferior to the men's, or that this is a "hobby" made famous by the PC brigade. It would also mean higher gates for all clubs and the chance of subsistence—but without those higher gates in the first place, professional women's football remains a distant dream.

Fleeting, like most women footballers, must make special efforts. She works during the week as a physical-education teacher at St. Michael's Academy in Kilwinning, Ayrshire (be prepared to mute speakers if you visit the school's website), flying from Scotland before matches (Angie Brown and Ginny Clark, "Scots Hat-Trick Heroine Shows Our Men the Route to Goalscoring Glory," The Scotsman). Her father is former Kilmarnock manager Jim Fleeting, and, perhaps due to her extensive background in the game, as a forward with the San Diego Spirit she enlivened the pitch with her goal celebrations: once "marking," in canine fashion, a corner flag along with teammate Aly Wagner.

So, what of Georgina Turner's question: "They say a tree falling unseen and unheard in a forest doesn't really fall, so what for women's football?" Well, even with the hopefully temporary loss of the professional game, long-term trends seem positive. The Women's FA Cup has existed since 1971; this year, it was televised on BBC for the third straight time, with some 2 million viewers expected. The game has a past, a future and an exciting now.

Jenna Cooper, 1982–2004 | We can’t do her justice


Players hold hands at a Monday press conference to pay tribute to Jenna Cooper. (Daily Nebraskan)

Lincoln, Nebraska | The land of the Cornhuskers—the home of collegiate football's Big Red Machine—has rarely witnessed a sporting tragedy to equal it. Sunday's shooting death of 21-year-old Jenna Cooper, a defender in one of women's soccer's top college programs and a member of the U-21 U.S. national team, drew comparisons to the 1996 death of University of Nebraska quarterback Brook Berringer. "When he died in a plane crash outside Lincoln," writes Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel ("Cooper Touched NU Family in Big Way"), "there was all but a statewide funeral for the young man. Not everyone knew him, but most who follow Husker football felt they knew him. Berringer's death rocked this state. The native Kansan was like a fallen son. He was a football player."

Cooper's death confounds for its inexplicability, for the senseless violence. A late-night party to celebrate the end of spring soccer. A dispute over drinking glasses. A warning shot, misdirected. Some hours later, Cooper, with a damaged carotid artery and a bullet lodged in her lung, is dead at a Lincoln hospital (see Aaron Sanderford, "Shooter Charged in Soccer Player's Death," Lincoln Journal Star). The alleged assailant, Lucky Iromuanya, acknowledged on a state website for his participation in an anti-violence program, is charged with second-degree murder and held in lieu of $500,000 bail. According to crime statistics available online through the Lincoln Police Department, Cooper's death would be the first Lincoln homicide of 2004.

Since coach John Walker started the Nebraska women's program in 1994, he has attracted the elite, including accomplished internationals and professionals—many with Canadian connections—such as Jenny Benson, Sharolta Nonen, Christine Latham, Breanna Boyd, Karina LeBlanc and current team member Brittany Timko. Cooper, as team captain, was working her way into those ranks. Said teammate Iman Haynes: "I feel like I can't do her justice by saying anything" (John Swartzlander, "Teammates, Coaches Remember Cooper," Daily Nebraskan). Memorial contributions may be sent to the Jenna Cooper Soccer Memorial Fund, University of Nebraska Athletic Development Office, #117 South Stadium, Lincoln, NE 68588-0154.

Update: On 24 February 2005, Iromuanya was sentenced to life in prison without parole. One year after the crime—on 25 April 2005—the Lincoln Journal-Star profiled Iromuanya and his life in prison (Brian Christopherson, "Iromuanya Learns a Lesson of a Lifetime"). The newspaper also published an account of how Cooper's friends and family dealt with the tragedy (John Mabry, "Family, Friends Remember Jenna Cooper").

The word ‘cruciate’ means crossed


The anterior cruciate ligament goes from the back of the thigh bone, or femur, to the front of the shin bone, or tibia.

Atlanta | Injuries to the knee's anterior cruciate ligament have become a curse to women's athletics, to women's football in particular. A survey in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution summarizes recent research and asks about the injury's emotional impact (Virginia Anderson, "On a Tear"; see also accompanying diagram). Generally speaking, doctors are studying how women move and how they land to explain why female athletes sustain ACL injuries at up to eight times the rate of men. "If I hit the ground, the ground hits back," says Tim Hewett, director of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. "Girls let the ground hit harder, making the knee work like a ball and socket. In boys, it works like a hinge." New training regimens could reduce the frequency of injury, although some researchers have doubts. There is no doubt, though, of the simple fact that sustaining the injury makes life harder. Mallory Springfield, a youth soccer player outside Atlanta, "did not become depressed after she tore her ACL last fall," Anderson writes,

but she did have to work hard to keep up with her studies. For weeks after her September surgery, she had an hour of physical therapy every day before school. "It was tough staying awake at school," she said. A striker on the Concorde Fire soccer club and also for her school team, Mallory tore her ACL after colliding with a goalie during a match in New York. She landed flat on her back, with her right knee twisted behind her. . . . As she lay on the field, she worried most about what most competitive athletes worry about when they are injured: missed playing time. "I was thinking, 'Please don't let it be serious,' " she said. "I wanted to play so bad."

More-technical data about ACL injuries are available through the Center for Orthopaedic and Biomechanics Research at Boise State University in Idaho ("Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Athletics"), and extensive links through the National Institutes of Health online reference page.

Domínguez the toast of Mexico


Maribel Domínguez celebrates afterward (AP)

San José, Costa Rica | A female footballer from Mexico has earned a rare honor. Maribel Domínguez is the toast of the country, having scored both goals in a 2–1 result over Canada, propelling Mexico's women's team into the Olympic Games for the first time (Daniel Blancas Madrigal, "Maribel: Madera de campeona," El Universal). Las Tricoloras earned further respect, both abroad and at home. The match against Canada was telecast live nationwide; the side's World Cup qualifier against Japan last year brought an estimated 85,000 to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City (no admission was charged). After the victory on 3 March, coach Leo Cuellar said it could have long-term impact.

What we earned today was another four years of support [from the Mexican federation]. We live in a culture where you have to win to get support. . . . The players deserved this win. They do not get any pennies for this. It has no value financially for them, but emotionally these are tattoos that stay on your heart forever. (Mark Zeigler, "U.S. Women Joined by Mexico in Nailing Down Trip to Olympics," San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 March)

Domínguez has seven goals in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament thus far, with a final against the United States tonight. (Both teams already have earned the confederation's two spots in Athens.) The youngest of nine children growing up near Mexico City's federal district, Domínguez credits her mother with hiding her football shoes and taking her to training when her father, who did not like football, was not around (Blane Bachelor, "Mexico's Dominguez Overcomes Long Odds," USA Today, 4 August 2003). "Yo era feliz en los campos" ("I was happy on the fields") Domínguez tells El Universal. At 25 she is already Mexico's all-time leading scorer and with the WUSA's Atlanta Beat was one of the side's most popular players. Local Spanish-language publication Estadio dubbed her "Mari-gol," and children posted her picture on bedroom walls (Michelle Hiskey, "Newspapers Make Sport(s) in Spanish," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 17 August 2003).

What was he thinking? Pelé names 100 (and then some)

London | Pelé has made some poor choices in his career. Perhaps one of the worst, however, was agreeing to name history's 100 greatest footballers for FIFA's centenary. Now he's encountering no end of stick for his selections, even from his native Brazil, where folks feel that more than 15 merited inclusion (" 'I Did My Best': Pele Angers Brazilians by Leaving Out 1970 World Cup Stars," Associated Press). The first oddity is that the list actually includes 125 names. Click for FIFA 100 siteThe list has also gained attention for including two women, both Americans: Michelle Akers, who, with China's Sun Wen, was FIFA's co-player of the century among women, and Mia Hamm. Pelé defends this choice: "[W]omen's football in the world is very important. We have the World Cup, the United States is world champion twice. This confused the people who were working with me but it was my choice, my idea." Ultimately, though, the selection seems like a half-hearted nod to the women's game. Why just two names? Why not a separate list when influential figures such as Carolina Morace (Italy), Pia Sundhage (Sweden), Elsie Cook (Scotland) and so many others get the snub? . . . We enjoyed Michael Skapinker's take on clichés ("Heed This Wake-Up Call or Risk a Spectacular Own Goal," Financial Times, 3 March, p. 7; available by subscription only). In the relevant section discussing "own goal," Skapinker notes the rarity of its use among Americans.

The war on Iraq was a "spectacular own goal", says Robin Cook, the former UK foreign secretary. Shackling the accused in their cells before their trial for defrauding the Commercial Bank of Mozambique was another "spectacular own goal", says the Agência de Informação de Moçambique. ¶A parenthetical curiosity is that real own goals are embarrassing, hilarious, unexpected—but rarely spectacular. They usually come from a mistimed defensive lunge or an ill-judged attempt to head the ball over the bar.

Poetic pitch | Hail the ‘schlubster linesman’

Princeton, New Jersey | Irishman Paul Muldoon's poem "Soccer Moms" appears in the New Yorker (issue dated 16 and 23 February, pp. 166–67; available in the magazine only). Poet Paul Muldoon. Click for his official website.
		  Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Moy Sand and Gravel: Poems, Muldoon invokes the Cuban Missile Crisis, Gene Chandler of "Duke of Earl" fame and two mothers, Mavis and Merle, who watch "their daughters, themselves now tweenie girls, / crowd round a coach for one last tête-à-tête." The 34-line poem of 11 stanzas contrasts seriousness with recreation, highlighting the worries and regrets that the mothers find themselves having inherited, while their daughters play on. A recurring image is that of failing light, when "a schlubster linesman will unfurl / an offside flag that signals some vague threat. . . ." Muldoon currently works as Howard G. B. Clark Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, where he has written sport-themed poems in the past. He penned a dedication, "All the Way," for the opening of a new Princeton gridiron-football stadium in 1998. . . . In other literary news, Parade magazine notes that Theodore S. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) in 1920 managed the soccer team for his high school in Springfield, Massachusetts (Earl Swift, "We Celebrate Dr. Seuss"). The magazine contains a picture of Geisel (middle name "Seuss") with 17 other boys and one football. . . . For unpoetic reactions to the on-pitch poetry of Arsenal's Thierry Henry, see the quotations from Frank Kermode and U.K. poet laureate Andrew Motion (Tim Adams, "Thierry's All Gold," The Observer [U.K.]).

Archive

Tehran, Iran, 8 Feb 04 | Through a photo essay in the New York Times Magazine we Niloofar Bassirmeet Niloofar Bassir (Nazila Fathi, "Beckham's Kid Sister," photography by Newsha Tavakolian, available through 14 February in the "Lives" section of the magazine's home page), a 19-year-old who quickly puts one in mind of Jesminder Bhamra of Bend It Like Beckham. As with Bhamra's retreat in the home of her Punjabi Sikh parents, one can see Beckham in various triumphant poses on the wall of Bassir's room. Bassir can braid her hair like Beckham, but must keep it covered in public. Only female fans can watch her compete in uniform.

London, 6 Feb 04 | With the publication of a new promotion for England's women's team—called the "Look Book"—media scrutiny again falls on how the women's game should be marketed (Paula Cocozza, "Is Sex Appeal the Way to Sell Women's Football?" The Guardian). The glossy brochure, as Cocozza describes it, includes pictures of four prominent England footballers in high heels and with bras and knickers showing. Goalkeeper Rachel Brown appears in the "Look Book" in pink high heelsAs Cocozza writes, the timing seems strange in the wake of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter's comments calling for tighter women's kit (see 16 January 2004 entry below) and contrasts with the stated desire of many women to be taken seriously as athletes. Cocozza refers to Brandi Chastain's sports-bra moment in the 1999 World Cup finals as "an individual, celebratory act of the moment every footballer, male or female, dreams of. It had taken place on the football pitch. She looked sexy because, among other things, she was successful, brave, athletic, impulsive and convincing." Unsurprisingly, England's Football Association would not affirm that the "Look Book" is also meant to counter lingering public uncertainty about female athletes' sexuality. "The closest the FA and [FA official Beverley] Ward will come to the subject is to praise Gurinder Chadha's film Bend It Like Beckham as 'the defining point of the women's game in England in the past 10 years.' Among its achievements is the fact that 'it dealt with a lot of issues while showing that girls can play football—issues of sexuality in sport, of not necessarily being a tomboy, of there being no career in it.' "

Zurich, 16 Jan 04 | This is how women's football seems to gain notice, when sex becomes an explicit part of the equation. Blatter believes in lifting up the women's game (AP Photo)As you no doubt have heard by now, FIFA boss Joseph "Sepp" Blatter has spelled out his vision of the feminine future for Swiss trash mag SonntagsBlick. That future involves tighter-fitting kit. "Pretty women are playing football today," Blatter said, in what the Times (U.K.) called a liberal translation from the German. "Excuse me for saying that." Headline-writers, of course, have had a good time:

"Blatter-Mouth Sepp Puts His Foot in It" (Edmonton Sun)
"Slip into Something Skimpy: Blatter" (Winnipeg Sun)
"Brief Loss of Blatter Control" (Washington Post)
"Getting Shorts in a Bunch" (Tacoma News Tribune)

And so on. The Times had its own variation—"Blatter Given Clear Brief Over Hotpants" (17 January)—in which Peter Lansley notes that the English Football Association might have unwittingly buttressed Blatter's comments by releasing a brochure with four female England players modeling, yes, closer-fitting football wear. We also cannot forget that the Women's United Soccer Association once sent cheesecake pics of its players to Playboy. FIFA's response to the latest imbroglio? A spokesman says that Blatter never said "hotpants."

Washington, 23 Dec 03 | Public Broadcasting's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer weighs in on the fall of the Women's United Soccer Association. Kwame Holman speaks with Joe Cummings, former general manager for the Boston Breakers, National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, and Donna Lopiano, director of the Women's Sports Foundation ("Women's Goals," full transcript online). Perhaps most encouraging, though, are Holman's conversations at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart (Bethesda, Maryland) and Yorktown High School (Arlington, Virginia). He speaks with Yorktown athlete John Crone, a gridiron football player, who says he prefers women's sports:

Women's sports are just a lot [of] fun to watch. It's like, I think it's a lot of fun, a lot more fun to watch because they're a lot more serious than sometimes guys. Like, especially with soccer. Because the guys' soccer, they can, like, fall down whenever, like, they barely get touched. But the women, they just get up and they're all tough about it. So, I don't know, I just love women's sports.

São Paulo, 4 Dec 03 | Not Katia, Marta or Milene Domingues—the soon to be ex–Mrs. RonaldoSilvia Regina de Oliveirabut referee Silvia Regina de Oliveira is the best-known woman in Brazilian football, according to the Guardian's Alex Bellos ("Whistle While You Work"). She has earned the recognition by becoming the first woman to referee in the Brazilian top flight and, most notoriously, by sending off Luis Fabiano last month in the CorinthiansSão Paulo derby. "It was a normal sending-off," says de Oliveira, "it's just that he is famous." The real stink came when Fabiano stuck his cleats in his mouth afterward, saying, "Just what you would expect from a woman." Fabiano was banned for four matches. Also, Bellos reports, Peter Hetherston of Scottish Third Division side Albion Rovers has resigned following his post-match tirade against lineswoman Morag Pirie, of whom Hetherston said, "She should be at home making the tea or the dinner for her man after he has been to the football." Looks like Hetherston will be home making tea for a bit.

County Durham, England, 22 Oct 03 | A strange story in the Times (London) about the Chester-le-Street Town Ladies Football Club. The Pauline Godward, upset with cup tieDurham County Football Association has nixed the club's efforts to gain £15,000 by wearing "No bollX" on its kit, which would have promoted a book by Keith Brown, True Masculinity, No bollX. The club is now backed, however, by a Northern Ireland hypnotist, John Grierson—and gaining moral support from elsewhere, judging from the website picture of Newcastle United gaffer Sir Bobby Robson. Grierson came to a recent FA Cup tie, but Chester-le-Street coach Pauline Godward (right) was not happy with a 3-1 result. "[I]t was abysmal. I hid in the dugout I was that embarrassed. We had about 200 spectators and I was glad we hadn't charged them." The side's kit now says, "New Life Hypnosis."

Nairobi, 9 Oct 03 | Click for MYSA websiteA Kenya-based program that allows youth to organize football and to perform community service has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) was nominated by Inger Lise Gjoerv of Norway. The organization, started in 1987, now has some 17,000 members and 1,200 football teams, in addition to girls' teams. The MYSA website states:

The girls football started in the year 1992. It was started by Samuel Karanja who is the current chief executive. He had seen that there was a need to indulge the girls in sports since most of them were doing a lot of domestic work but had nothing interesting to do during their free time. . . . MYSA was determined to expose girls to football and they believed that the girls could do it.

For more background on MYSA, see Hans Hognestad and Arvid Tollisen, "Playing against Deprivation: Football and Development in Nairobi, Kenya," in Football in Africa: Conflict, Conciliation, and Community (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 210–26.

Dalian, China, 14 Aug 03 | FIFA reports that the Chinese women's national team (the "Steel Roses," or "Iron Roses," depending on the translation) has been training with men's side Dalian Shide, losing 5-1 on 6 August to Dalian's reserves. The article offers insight into the Chinese women's stern regimen leading to the Women's World Cup: 10 400-meter sprints per day, plus another 10 kilometers of running per day. "Even the goalkeepers have to run seven or eight kilometers," says goalkeeper Xiao Zhen. China has upcoming friendlies with Nigeria, Australia and South Africa. (See issue 7 of The Global Game for more on Chinese women's football.)

N.B.: It is always possible that links above will have expired, or that the link will take you to an archive, where you must part with $3.00 or so for a 750-word article. Another possibility is that a subscription or registration of some sort will be required. We apologize for any inconvenience, noting only that there frankly are too many links on the site to keep up with them all.

If, however, you would like us to find a now-expired article in our archives, we'd be happy to send it to you, if available. Please use the contacts link.