Overshadowed by their male counterparts

In June the Swiss women will take part in the World Cup for the first time in the history of football. Yet this success has not brought them much money or attention.

Cinzia Zehnder (right) battling with England’s Katie Zelem

It is hammering down on the pitch. The women are battling valiantly while the men suppress a smile. FC Zurich’s women’s team are playing against the ladies from BSC Young Boys of Berne. There are also three internationals out on the pitch. They will travel to Canada for the World Cup in June – Fabienne Humm and Cinzia Zehnder from the Zurich-based club and Florijana Ismaili from Berne. It is the first time in footballing history that Switzerland’s women have reached the World Cup finals.

A small group of the players’ relatives sit amongst the spectators at Zurich’s Heerenschürli field sports centre to watch this game on a Saturday in March. Women’s football in Switzerland has continued to receive little media coverage in the last few weeks before the World Cup despite the historic success. On the sports desk of a leading national newspaper, nobody volunteers when asked who will go to Canada to cover the World Cup. The magazines, which report on male footballers’ every romance and new car, make barely a mention of the ladies’ team. Even “Playboy”, which featured the German women’s team, has not been in touch despite the fact that some of the Swiss women would undoubtedly look good in it.

As exciting as the lottery draw

Why, you might ask, does the female team in a football-crazy nation like Switzerland continue to remain overlooked? “The bottom line is that the game is about as exciting as the lottery draw when you haven’t bought a ticket,” a columnist on the “NZZ am Sonntag” once wrote about the spectator experience at women’s football. The ladies are slow and not strong, including technically. There are around ten missed passes to every one which goes to a team mate. This rather scathingly sums up the commonly held misgivings and prejudices about women’s football. Many people also find it an unattractive spectacle. The sport still has a reputation for being a playground for aggressive lesbians with hair on their upper lip.

But does this image reflect reality? During the rain-swept match in Zurich, FCZ captain Humm scans the pitch. She is in possession, lifts her right leg in the air, misses the ball and trips. Two men in the stand laugh. But only briefly before biting their lips as they are aware of what is politically correct. Shortly afterwards a mishit ball lands in the refuse beyond the pitch. Another hits a spectator on the shoulder causing her to drop her hotdog.

But there are also players lacking concentration and sliced balls when the men are in action. Some female footballers are probably on a par with the men technically. The standard of women’s football nevertheless varies widely. This is also explained by the fact that the sport is still largely amateur. There are currently just three Swiss women on professional contracts and none of them play for a Swiss club. Lara Dickenmann from Kriens was for seven years with the French side Olympique Lyon and plays now for VFL Wolfsburg, Ramona Bachmann from Malters plays in Sweden and Vanessa Bürki from Grenchen is under contract at FC Bayern Munich.

No reason to look away

The women are certainly not as fast or powerful as their male counterparts, and that will probably never change. But this alone does not explain the lack of popularity of women’s football. In athletics nobody cares that it takes women a second longer to race 100 metres or that their descent is a metre below the height reached by the men in the pole vault. In some Scandinavian countries, in Germany, the USA and Japan, women’s football enjoys a different status to that in Switzerland. Football is actually perceived as more of a female sport in the USA.

Female players have been endeavouring for some years to shake off the image of manly women which makes the sport unappealing for many people. The women appear very feminine. The proportion of those with long hair amongst the Swiss women’s team is higher than in the rest of society. Some players have a small frame, and many wear make-up on the pitch and move gracefully. In this respect, there is no reason even for more sensitive male eyes to turn away.

Full-time jobs on top of training

The match between the teams from Zurich and Berne proves very entertaining after a while, watching the very direct Humm with her clean, incisive style of play. Then there is the talented, 17-year-old Cinzia Zehnder, who seems rather awkward on her long, slim legs and looks as though she is constantly wearing a question mark on her forehead. But then she scores a goal. And after the Bernese ladies equalise in the 70th minute, Zehnder channels her frustration into producing a second goal which proves decisive in a 2:1 victory.

Zehnder still attends the cantonal school and is due to sit her Swiss school-leaving exams in the summer. She can, however, postpone them owing to the World Cup. Humm held a full-time position in business until recently. She has now reduced her level of employment to 80 % in the run-up to the World Cup in order to prepare better. The sport, which has thus far provided the national team players with little money and only marginal attention, makes great demands of them. It is a time-consuming pastime. They have to train five times a week and do everything for themselves. After the match, they have to put the goalposts away before they can leave.

“She’s great, she believes in us”

The biggest problem facing Swiss women’s football is its financial position. It is lacking in money. Women do not receive much support at the clubs. Even though girls increasingly enjoy playing football and fathers no longer kick up a fuss, they are still not fully fledged members. Talented young female footballers often do not even have their own showers at the local clubs. Such structural weaknesses have a very discouraging impact. The football association’s reluctance to invest in women’s football means the girls do not feel very highly valued.

At least the Swiss women’s national team has received greater support since it was confirmed that they would take part in the 2015 World Cup in Canada. “Many female players have been given an individual training programme,” explains Zehnder after the match. At 1.8 metres tall and weighing 60 kg, she will focus on building muscle. This means a protein-rich diet and sessions in the gym. Others have to work on their athleticism or fitness levels. The players have been given lectures on nutrition. They also receive psychological input, which has long been commonplace in elite sport.

The national team manager, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg from Germany, who has coached the Swiss ladies since 2012, takes care of the rest. Voss-Tecklenburg also once played herself. She made 125 international appearances, was crowned German female footballer of the year three times and was a runner-up at the World Cup with Germany in 1995. Outlining her coaching ethos, she remarks: “I was an aggressive player myself and I like to see an aggressive style of football.” Fabienne Humm says of Voss-Tecklenburg: “She’s great, she believes in us.” She has instilled “the German mentality” into the team, reveals Humm with a grin. The positive message she conveys is to never give up, chase every ball and believe in your own abilities. “She has shown us that we are a force to be reckoned with.” The coach has turned a group of uncertain girls who enjoyed kicking a ball around into a team.

And what is a realistic goal for the World Cup? “Getting out of the group into the knock-out stage,” indicate Humm and Zehnder.

Provocative advertising

Female footballers promote themselves and their sport on YouTube and come across as brazen and bursting with energy. They pull tractors on a rope and shout across to the male professionals: “Do you have the balls to take us on?” This is despite the fact that it is precisely comparison with the men that has damaged women’s football in the past.

Women’s football still has a long way to go in Switzerland before it is taken seriously. Even if FIFA President Sepp Blatter recently proclaimed his intention to make women’s football as big as the men’s game, the 79-year-old will probably never see that day.

claudia Schumacher is AN EDITOR WITH THE “nzz am sonntag”

Facing the world champions in Vancouver

The FIFA 2015 women’s World Cup will take place in Canada from 6 June to 5 July. The Swiss face a stern test from the outset. In the first match on 8 June, they will play the reigning world champions Japan in Vancouver. More than half of the Swiss players have contracts with clubs abroad. FC Zurich, the best Swiss female football club, nevertheless provides the largest contingent of players to the national team. Fabienne Humm, Cinzia Zehnder and Nicole Remund are highly likely to be on the plane to Canada, and Selina Kuster also stands a good chance. If they reach the knock-out stage, the Swiss ladies will have achieved their goal.

Comments (16)
  1. Ulrich Kapp Ulrich Kapp at 16.05.2015
    Ich finde die Vorurteile gegenüber dem Frauenfußball sehr schade!
    Natürlich gibt es Unterschiede zum Herrenfußball - so ist beispielsweise der Frauenfußball bei weitem nicht so hart und brutal.
    Dafür aber durchaus reich an packenden Szenen und spannenden Zweikämpfen.
    Und im Gegensatz zum Herrenfußball hat man tatsächlich das Gefühl ein Spiel zu erleben und nicht einen Kampf der Gladiatoren bis auf's Blut.

    Ein wenig mehr an Aufmerksamkeit durch die Presse und ein mehr Geld durch Verbände und Sponsoren könnte dem Frauenfußball allerdings gut tun.
    Also tut was, ihr Herren in den Vorstandsetagen der Unternehmen und Verbände!
    1. Chris S Chris S at 21.05.2015
      Ich bin auch Schweizer und lebe in Calgary, ich finde diese Vorurteile absurd, die Frauen spielen Fussball und liegen dann bei einem Foul nicht am Boden und waelzen sich bis der Schidsrichter pfeifft oder um Zeit zu gewinnen. Ich habe schon viele Spiele beobachted und mir scheint, dass die Frauen viel weniger "saemele" als die Maenner. Was noch dazu kommt ich habe tickets fuers Spiel Kameroon - Schweiz gekauft welches in Edmonton gespielt wird.
    2. Marc G. Miller Marc G. Miller at 21.05.2015
      Es sind nicht nur Unterschiede zwischen den Maennern und Frauen. Sowohl die hochbezahlten Superstars als auch Amateur-Fussballer koennten einiges von den Frauen lernen um selber atraktiver zu werden. Ich denke da vor allem an:
      - meckern bei Schiedsrichter-Entscheiden
      - Schwalben
      - hinterhaeltige Fouls
      - Zeit schinden
      etc.
      Natuerlich gibt es Beispiele mit denen man das Gegenteil belegen kann; aber im Durchschnitt stehen die Frauen dem FIFA Slogan "respect" wesentlich naeher als die Maenner.
    3. Paul Eggel Paul Eggel at 14.06.2015
      Wait a minute! I love watching women football, but I do not try to compare it to men's soccer.
      However, Claudia Schumacher article is very clear and honest.
      I don't think it takes anything away from the game, it just states the realities of the day.
      Women are women, and we love it that way.
      Aloha
  2. Oursin Bühler Oursin Bühler at 17.05.2015
    Da gebe ich Hr. Kapp in allen Punkten recht.
    Ich finde Frauenfussball sehr unterhaltsam und er hat mehr Aufmerksamkeit verdient.
    Noch etwas positives: Frauenclups haben keine idiotischen "Fans", die sich die Köpfe einschlagen ;-)
    Sehr schwach hingegen ist, dass sie keine eigenen Duschen haben!
  3. Beat Stauber Beat Stauber at 19.05.2015
    I bin Schweizer, lebe aber in den USA. In Portland, Oregon spielt unser Frauenteam Thorns FC im selben Stadion wie die Männer, und die durchschnittliche Zuschauerzahl ist über 13'000 (21'000 für die Männer). Die Frauennationalmannschaft is fast gleich populär wie die Männernationalmannschaft. For ein paar Tagen hatten 27'000 ein Freundschaftsspiel der Frauennationalmannschaft in Los Angeles besucht. Ich wünschte es könnte in anderen Ländern auch so sein. Ich weiss dass ich die Frauen WM verfolgen werde, natürlich beide Teams, Schweiz und USA.
  4. Laura B Laura B at 20.05.2015
    Ich lebe auch in den USA (los Angeles) und ehrlich gesagt finde ich diese Vorurteile skandalös. Vorallem dass die Mädchen in den Fussball Clubs nicht mal Duschen haben. In welchem Jahrhundert ist die Schweiz stecken geblieben? Wie soll die nächste Generation an sich glauben wenn sie immer noch so begrenzt "gleichwertig" behandelt wird? Wenn die Schweizer ihre WM Frauen nicht unterstützen find ich das mehr als schade. Den Schweizer Mädchen wird weiterhin klar gemacht dass sie vielen Orten immer noch nicht willkommen sind, zum Beispiel auf dem Fussball Platz. Dass sie dort nur belächelt werden und als unweiblich (also unwertig) gelten. Seriously?!? ich würde behaupten, die Schweiz verpasst ihren Zug... Um im nächsten Zeitabschnitt international mithalten zu können, ökonomisch wie auch kulturell, muss man auf die Frauen rechnen und ihnen Platz schaffen im "limelight". Fussball ist ein Beispiel dafür. Frauenfussball ist etwas weniger schnell, die Bälle fliegen im Schnitt weniger stark und jedoch sind die Spiele gerade in den USA beliebt weil sie mehr zusammen Arbeit und Taktik ins Spiel bringen.
    Wenn sich die Media nicht um die Frauen WM tut, wird sich auch kaum ein Mädchen ein Vorbild machen. Wer will schon so hart trainieren um sich öffentlich belächeln zu lassen?
  5. eric v. eric v. at 21.05.2015
    I am from the USA, where soccer is indeed mostly considered a woman's sport. In the man's world of athleticism, American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey are kings in this country. And yet, woman soccer is in its third round of professional soccer league and not fairing well for that matter. The stadiums are almost empty, and the players salaries are mediocre, if existent at all. A few women players enjoy some financial success through advertisement contracts, not thanks to their skills though. No, it's the looks that sell for most of them. Welcome to the world of man... but can men be blamed? After all, the scientific fact that women are neither as fast not strong as men is undeniable. Just as recently as a few years ago, the U.S. woman national team scrimmage against a high school body team because the young men possessed the same physical abilities as these fully grown, well trained female athletes. No, it must be accepted although politically incorrect: woman soccer will never be at the physical level of man soccer. And so what? Let our wives and daughters enjoy playing the game, and let us cheer them on anyway. Not every son and husband will be successful either, and yet we support their dreams anyway because that's what love compels us to do. And that's the truth behind any sport: the love for the game drives us to support our favorite teams, through victories and defeats, greatness and poor display.
    1. Dustin B Dustin B at 30.05.2015
      I don't understand this "soccer is a women's game in the US". Sure, soccer, basketball and volleyball are probably the top games for women, but there is no sense that only women play them.
  6. Rudy E. Rudy E. at 25.05.2015
    I also live in the US and watch a fair amount of soccer. The game the US team plays measures up in many ways to some men teams. The offencive way they play is surely more fun to watch then those super defencive matches one can see from mens teams. The Swiss seem to once again be slow to recognize the value of something "new" to them. Measured on the results of the Swiss teams in the international competition in Europe on the mens side, they should not look down at the newcomers in the sport. The observation about the sometimes violence watching those mediocre mens matches is spot on too. And the theatrics on the field I rarely seen in womans soccre.So, go go go Switherland, I will be watching you!! Good luck!!Just look at those laughing at you, they may not be half as fit as you are! Keep going, the Swiss are just a little slow sometimes!
  7. Sylvianne Sieglé Sylvianne Sieglé at 27.05.2015
    excellent article. Les footballeuses sont des amatrices et doivent gagner leur croûte autrement que pat le foot. Les hommes, par contre, ont des salaires mirobolants et n'ont pas besoin d'un travail pour se nourrir. Ils s'entraînent durant la journée, les femmes: après le boulot.
    Bonne chance aux suissesses durant ces mondiaux!
  8. Rachel Pugh Rachel Pugh at 28.05.2015
    This article is condescending and offensive. It shows just how far behind Switzerland is as far as equality is concerned.
    1. Dustin B Dustin B at 29.05.2015
      Seconded. I was stunned at how utterly patronizing this article was. It makes a mockery of equality and unwittingly buys into the devaluing of women's sports that it attempts to report on.

      I read this out loud to my wife, and we had a rollicking laugh at how backwards Switzerland is on this point. Seriously, the Swiss government is publishing this? I think the Swiss women's team has a right to feel devalued on more than just the financial front.

      Best of luck to the Swiss at the 2015 cup!
    2. M. Stillhart (NL) M. Stillhart (NL) at 02.06.2015
      Ich unterschreibe diese beiden Kommentare. Dieser, wahrscheinlich unbeabsichtigt, herablassend formulierte Artikel zeigt, wie tief das rückständige Frauenbild in der schweizer Seele verankert ist. Sogar der provokative Titel verfehlt sein Ziel.

      Ich gratuliere dem Frauenteam zur WM-Qualifikation und wünsche ihnen viel Erfolg!
  9. A. Zwimpfer A. Zwimpfer at 09.06.2015
    Just watched the Switzerland-Japan FIFAWWC match at BC Place last evening after reading this article a few days earlier. The squad was not at all like this portrayal. They were strong, they were fast and there is a great abundance of brilliant two-footed technicality on this team, as well as team-play strategy.
  10. Marisa Wunderlin Marisa Wunderlin at 18.06.2015
    Liebe Frau Schumacher

    Dass Sie einen überspitzten und provokativen Artikel schreiben, damit könnte ich leben. Nicht jede/r muss Frauenfussball gern haben, Sie dürfen sich an einem Spiel mit dürftigem Niveau stören, und es ist ihr Recht ihre Meinung in einem solchen Artikel einzubauen. Nichts desto trotz brüskiert mich Ihr Artikel stark, weil er aufgrund der Wortwahl schlicht respektlos ist und ihre Recherchen mehr als nur ungenügend waren!

    Ihre Aussage „Es gibt auch für sensible männliche Augen ... keinen Grund mehr wegzusehen.“ ist bereits ziemlich frech, reduziert er doch Frauen die Spitzensport betreiben auf ihr Aussehen, das wohl herzlich wenig zu einem Sieg beiträgt. Noch viel unglaublicher finde ich aber diesen Satz: „... Martina Voss-Tecklenburg hat aus einer Gruppe unsicherer Mädchen, die halt gerne tschutten, eine Mannschaft geformt.“ Sie betiteln notabene erwachsene Frauen (teilweise älter als sie selbst, Frau Schumacher), die erfolgreich Beruf, Studium, Schule und tägliches Training vereinen, die mitten im Leben stehen als „unsichere Mädchen, die gerne tschutten“. Da fehlen mir schlicht und einfach die Worte....

    Was ich hingegen fast noch schlimmer finde, sind ihre schlechten Recherchen! Dass bei dem von Ihnen beschriebenen Spiel die genannten Nationalspielerinnen nicht korrekt waren, die Schweiz weit mehr Spielerinnen mit Profiverträgen hat, sie gar eine der Spielerinnen von Bayern München nennen und die andere schlicht vergessen, dass Lara Dickenmann zwar im April einen Vertrag unterschrieben hat, aber erst ab Juli bei Wolfsburg spielt, und und und. Dies alles sind Tatsachen, die sie mit kleinstem Aufwand hätten korrekt recherchieren können. Sollte Ihnen tatsächlich nicht bekannt sein, wo diese Informationen zu finden sind, so dürfen Sie mich gerne in Zukunft vor dem Schreiben eines Artikels über den Frauenfussball kontaktieren! Ich bitte Sie gar darum.

    Freundliche Grüsse
    Marisa Wunderlin
    Assistenztrainerin FC Zürich Frauen NLA

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