Japan’s Homare Sawa, the 2011 Women’s World Player of the Year, spoke in London this week while campaigning for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid about how more female “superstars” are needed in soccer to help the sport grow. While Sawa is a sporting idol at home, as the leader of Nadeshiko Japan, the women’s national team, she points out that even the very best female football players are relatively unknown in most parts of the world.
Sawa was speaking just after Lionel Messi was named the men’s 2012 World Player of the Year for the fourth consecutive time and how he is recognized everywhere, but the U.S.’s Abby Wambach, who was named women’s 2012 star, is the closest female celebrity there is, and that only comes years after Mia Hamm. She feels that it is very important for there to be a role model or superstar to offer inspiration to kids, but there needs to be more than one when it comes to women’s sports.
As similar examples, it’s pointed out how the popularity of basketball in China shot up after player Yao Ming entered the scene and was recognized as one of the country’s best athletes. Likewise, cycling didn’t receive much attention in the U.K. until Mark Cavendish and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins became icons. A similar thing needs to happen, but instead of by nationality, by gender. Big female names could give women’s football a boost in countries where the sport is already popular, like Italy and Britain, but female teams are marginalized.
Sawa points out that the most important thing for female players is to perform at their very best in Olympic and World Cup matches. The Japanese player led her country to victory at the 2011 World Cup by defeating the U.S., after which she was named the world’s player of the year. Last summer’s London Games were Sawa’s fourth Olympics, where Nadeshiko won the silver medal, its best outcome ever at the international sporting event. While she is now even more popular, that is mostly limited to her home country. While she is 34 now, she declined to commit whether she would still be playing in seven years should Tokyo win its bid for the 2020 Olympics, but she says the best thing she can do now is promote the fact that there is a growing interest in women’s soccer.
[via GMA News]