FIFA NEWS AND RESULTS
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May 13, 2002
Rome- It was indeed a very special evening for the women's game as the Grand Lady of international soccer, America's Michelle Akers, and China's superstar player Sun Wen were chosen this century's greatest players by FIFA and its worldwide voters. The award ceremony took place in the "Eternal City's" Foro Italico auditorium which is located next to Rome's Olympic stadium, home not only to the men's Serie A clubs Roma and Lazio but also site of the 1990 World Cup final between Lothar Matthaus' W. Germany and Diego Armando Maradona's Argentina.
The auditorium was literally a "Who's Who" of international soccer: former FIFA president Joao Havelange, FIFA president Joseph Blatter, FIFA vice president (and Argentine FA president) Julio Grondona, UEFA presidentLennart Johannsson as well as an impressive collection of some of thegreatest players in the history of the game: Michel Platini, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Bruno Conti (Pele's choice of MVP during the 1982 World Cup), the "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer, Liberian national player George Weah, Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio, 1966 World Cup sensation Eusebio, Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo, Luis Figo, Francesco Totti, Dino Zoff, Gianni Rivera, Jorge Valdano (Maradona's teammate in the 1986 World Cup), Riinus Michels (former Netherlands coach and "father" of the total game concept of the 70s), Giampiero Boniperti (15 Italian national titles with Juventus as both a player and club president) Maradona, "O Rey" Pele' and perhaps one of the greatest of them all, 5 time Champions' Cup winner with Real Madrid, Alfredo Di Stefano of Argentina.
Let's go back a few days to the beginning of the grand Gala which was organized by FIFA and the "Gazzetta dello Sport", the world's oldest sports newspaper (1896). FIFA had organized several high-level meetings in Rome which began on Dec. 8th. Some of the topics discussed were security, Fair Play, finance and the organization of the next World Cup in 2002. The conclusion of the FIFA gathering was going to be the "World Player Gala"
Monday December 11th
Michelle, Sun (assisted by Lorrie Fair's mother who acted as interpreter) and Doris took up their seats on stage next to Cooper to begin answeringquestions from the press. The first came from an Argentine journalist who directed his question to Cooper on whether Maradona intended to share his award with Pele'. Seeing that it had absolutely nothing to do with women's soccer, Cooper abruptly cut off the journalist adding that his question was completely out of line with the purpose of this press conference. This correspondent's question came right after the somewhat embarassing moment and was directed to Michelle. I asked her what she thought, based on the success of USA'99, would be the impact of the WUSA league set for April 2001 and would she be part of it. She responded that she unfortunately will undergo yet another shoulder operation and won't begin to play until 2002. As for her thoughts on the impact of the WUSA on the U.S. and even the rest of the world, she was of the opinion that the impact will no doubt be very big and that the league will include top-notch players from all over the world.
A Brazilian journalist asked the players who they thought was the world's best (male) player. Michelle thought that Pele' should deserve the award as she recalled seeing him play with the NY Cosmos when she was a child. She also greatly admired him because both went on to become testimonials for Umbro. Sun's choice, which starled a Portuguese journalist in the hall, was Figo. She said that she greatly enjoyed watching him during the Euro 2000 finals. Michelle later took on two questions from British journalists on why men's soccer in the U.S. was not really as popular as in other countries around the world. The questioning seemed to have been centered mostly on the men's game. The (apparent) disinterest for these three magnificent players grew even greater as Brazil and Barcellona's Rivaldo entered the conference hall to take his front row seat next to Weah. At that point, a crowd of cameramen swarmed around Rivaldo like flies around a light bulb. While all this was going on Michelle was trying to explain the reality of the men's game in the U.S. Had she even begun to sing "Yankee Doodle" it is doubtful anyone would have noticed. When things settled down I followed up with a second question: "During last summer's World Cup Keith Cooper was quoted in U.S. papers by calling the event "simply stupendous". One of women's soccer's greatest admirers and supporters is Joseph Blatter who repeatedly has said that the future of the game is feminine. Has enough been done so far for the women's game around the world"? Michelle felt that "the women's game has progressed slowly but obviously more needs to be done. What is required is greater media exposure and the WUSA will defintely give a further push to the entire movement". Sun's comment was more direct: she felt "abandoned" as a woman player as all the attention is always focused on the men's game. Her comment was rather symbolic as the media's attention around Rivaldo was non-stop.
To a great degree Sun, Michelle and Doris had been basically ignored by the international press. As their press encounter ended Rivaldo and Weah took
The stars from the world of soccer began arriving at the Hilton for the 6.30 pm cocktail reception, including Havelange and FA presidents. Di Stefano
The guests then proceeded for the Foro Italico where the Gala event was to take place (it was to be televised at a later date on Italian television). Using all his diplomatic skills Blatter was able to convince Maradona to show up for the Gala event. And he did. He entered the auditorium with his wife Claudia, his two daughters and his parents with about 15 minutes left to go before the start of the show. By that time Pele' was already seated between Beckenbauer and Platini in front row. Maradona appeared in splendid form, completely opposite the man who had gotten off the plane in Havana several months ago to check into a Cuban drug rehabilitation clinic. He greeted and hugged many of the players whom he had played against during his illustrious career as well as the many personalities in the auditorium, including his fellow compatriot and "mentor", Di Stefano. The final hug was reserved for "O Rey" himself. At that point loud cheering and clapping rose from the audience of about 300 people. Maradona was about as excited as a kid on Christmas Day just waiting to open up his presents.
The happiest person there was Blatter who had managed to do the impossible: to bring Pele' and Maradona together under the same roof (both stars had publically exchanged verbal "jabs" just prior to the Gala and Maradona had even threatened Blatter and organizers with a "no-show"). Not even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been capable to get Barak and Arafat to do the same as what Blatter accomplished with these two players. There on one side of the auditorium stage sat Rivaldo, Figo and Maradona. On the other side sat Beckenbauer, Pele', Platini, Zidane and Davids of Holland. Directly behind Zidane sat Michelle and directly behind Platini sat Sun.
The show began in true Swiss fashion at exactly 8:45 pm with Tina Turner's "You're simply the best" blaring in the background, an appropriate song for
The extraordinary spectacle ended around 11 pm. An official dinner for many of the delegates was organized back at the Hilton after the show. Maradona and Pele' had left the auditorium and were nowhere to be seen (Maradona did not stick around as Pele' was the last to accept his award). Figo remained after the show as he was being interviewed by the international press. Sun saw him and asked me if it was possible to get a picture with the Portuguese player. Figo gladly agreed and in a rather good English congratulated a very excited Sun on her award. Michelle appeared rather tired towards the end of a very long day but nevertheless made herself available for pictures together with Sun and Doris. It had indeed been quite the extaordinary day for everyone.
The event, at least for this correspondent, was probably the best Christmas gift one could expect for someone who has had for most of his life a passion
If one could possibly calculate the market value of ALL the players present in that auditorium on Monday evening I think it would be safe to say that the amount could well exceed 1 billion dollars. But then again, do people like Akers, Di Stefano, Pele', Maradona, Rivaldo, Baggio, Platini and Wen really have a price? Does Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" have a price? Probably not because greatness usually knows absolutely no financial limits.
During a small break prior to the Gala I had the opportunity to talk to Keith Cooper about the apparent indifference which still surrounds women's soccer (just how many in the auditorium were actually aware of what Sun, Michelle and Doris are capable of doing with a soccer ball remains to be seen). Cooper's feeling was that in the last 10 years women have made enourmous strides in the world of soccer: 3 World Cups and 2 Olympic tournaments, including Rome's Gala event and the awards to players such as Sun and Michelle. Without a doubt women's soccer has indeed progressed.Who would have ever thought of seeing the day that Michelle, Sun and Doris would rub shoulders with the likes of Zidane, Figo, Rivaldo and Pele'? Few I think.
I believe that the thousands of people who have so far worked behind the scenes (coaches, parents, managers, organizers, editors, correspondents, etc.), not to mention the more than 40 million women who play soccer around the world, can be extremely proud of the laurels bestowed upon Sun, Michelle and Doris on December 11th, 2000. The 20th century is about to officially come to a close on a rather positive note for women's international soccer. 2004 will be FIFA's 100th anniversary. Let us hope that FIFA by then will also remember to pay homage to another great player of the game, Mia Hamm. And let us also hope that the 21st century will bring women even moreprestigious awards as the ones many of us had the chance to see in the "Eternal City".
On one final note, the Gazzetta sports paper the day after the Gala had about 4 pages on the event. Not one included pictures of the female recipients. They were all of the men. It looks like some things will still take centuries to change
Whoever it was in FIFA that came up with the brilliant idea of holding an open fan voting on the internet failed to understand that many of the voters would have little knowledge of the game or players that they are voting for. The results obtained from internet polls are usually skewed and unreliable. In this particular event FIFA found that they had put themselves in an embarrassing position just a few days before the event and were forced to compromise by naming two players of the Century. (The same situation occurred for the men).
FIFA Grand Jury Award went to Michelle Akers as the Female Player of the Century, and Sun Wen was awarded the Internet Female Player of the Century.
An unconfirmed rumor at the dinner suggested that FIFA had won both the Internet and Jury awards for the Foot in Mouth Players of the Century.
2003 Women's World Cup
The next Women´s World cup will be in China in 2003. The FIFA Committee for Women's Football today decided to recommend to the FIFA Executive that the event shall be awarded to the country that had already successfully hosted the inaugural tournament in 1991. Australia was the other candidate, The members of the committee felt that after the huge success in the USA in 1999, the Women'sWorld Cup should again go to a country with an already established large women's football movement,
The inaugural U-19 Women´s World Cup will have 12 teams in the Final Competition in September 2002. The championships will be held every second year. The allocation of teams per continent will be finalised once the host country of the inaugural competition is known in spring 2001. According to information from the continental confederations, some 90 associations are expected to enrol teams for the preliminary competition to this new event.
The 2004 Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Athens was the third competition to be dealt with by the committee. With an increase from
The so called "Century Awards" of soccer will be given at a big world soccer-gala, to be held in Rotenburg/Fulda in Germany on 4th of January. Besides the yearly national and world-honours there will be awards given to best male and female soccer players of the century, plus male goalie. The gala is organized by IFFHS, the International Federartion of Football History & Statistics. CONCACAF president Jack Warner will give the trophies.
While there are no nominees from the US at the male and goalie competition, Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm have good chances to reach a medal place in the female ranking. Besides Akers and Hamm, Linda Medalen, Heidi Mohr, Carolina Morace and Sissi compete for the places one to six. The ranking will be done by computer after adding up all the highlights of the different careers, collected and voted by historians and other soccer-experts from all over the world.
The list of those below the top-six has already been announced:
Among the male top nominees are worldstars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Eusebio, Garrincha, Puskas, Platini, Bobby Charlton ... Most of them are expected to go to the big party in Rotenburg.