Last week I went to Berlin to see the opening game of the women’s football World Cup at the Olympiastadion. I am used to play with my team in front of five or ten people in London parks and even games in the highest English league only attract a few hundred spectators. It was an amazing experience to share the moment with 74,000 people, the largest crowd ever for a women’s game in Europe.
I stayed in Germany for a week to soak up the World Cup atmosphere. The German FA have run a huge marketing and publicity operation to raise awareness and attempt to re-create the Sommermärchen atmosphere of the men’s World Cup in 2006. The general public need some more convincing, but overall there is much more support and coverage of the sport than in England.
After seeing the first game of the German team live in the stadium, I wanted to go to a public viewing of the second game. I had read that the game was shown on a big screen at the Discover Football festival in a small stadium in Kreuzberg. The festival, organised for the second year by a group of friends from Berlin, aims to highlight the social and integrative role football can play in women’s lives throughout the world. Seven of the eight teams, selected from a number of international applications, came from countries like Togo, Rwanda, India and France. The organisers invited teams “that play against the odds, in spite of the difficulties they encounter as women soccer players, teams that are socially engaged and want to experience the integrative power of football.”
The festival did not just give these women the opportunity to play football, but also to discuss their own situation and the role football plays in their lives, and to get to know people from other countries and cultures. Part of the festival were also a series of talks, concerts and screenings of football-related short films. That day Theo Zwanziger, the head of the DFB (the German Football Association), had visited and the following day the teams were going to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Although I came to watch a World Cup game, I ended up coming back the following day to watch one of the games of the Discover Football tournament between team C.A.F.E. from Togo and Mifalot Hinuch, which included players from Israel and Jordan. Three players of Mifalot Hinuch who live in the Palestinian territories were meant to be there, too, but they had decided not to travel to Berlin after their families had received threats because of their participation in the team. Mifalot Hinuch is not just a sports club but a social and education project which aims to promote peace and understanding amongst young people used to daily conflict in their region.
I was very impressed by the standard of football. The team from Togo had the more skilful players, but Mifalot Hinuch met them with a strong team performance, an outstanding goalkeeper and vocal support from the sidelines. In the end a team from Brazil won the tournament, but in my eyes all the teams taking part were winners in their own right. A truly inspiring experience!