BERLIN — Bianca Rech tugged up her white socks and juggled the soccer ball on her knees before driving it into the depths of the net.
“We’re adding a feminine kick,” she quipped before a local Berlin team surrounded her to request she autograph their shirts. Rech, 25, is a defensive player for Germany’s national world champion soccer squad.
Football fever has gripped Europe, and nowhere more than in Germany, where the World Cup is being held through July 9. While the players grabbing air time around the globe during the tournament are all men, women are getting in on the action as well.
“It’s not just a man’s sport anymore,” said Rech’s 17-year-old teammate Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, who showed off her feminine footwork on the miniature field at the Adidas World of Football, a mock-up stadium in front of the Reichstag, for the Women’s Soccer Theme Day organized by the activewear giant last week. While the World Cup competition heats up here, Adidas and FIFA, soccer’s governing body, are making sure the temperature is also rising in anticipation of the Women’s World Cup, which will be held next year in China.
“Women’s football [soccer] means more than just kicking a ball around,” said FIFA president Joseph Blatter, who unveiled the match ball specially created for the women’s tournament. According to Blatter, approximately 40 million women play soccer worldwide, excluding China.
“Women’s football continues to expand in size, recognition and audience everywhere,” added Erich Stamminger, chief executive officer and president of the Adidas brand. “It’s all about enjoying the game.”
And how. In Germany, in preparation for this year’s World Cup kickoff, one church converted its altars into miniature soccer fields to teach the principles of nonviolence and fair play, while a local farmer made the Berlin news for having painted German flags on the bellies of all his cows.
Stamminger said women’s wear accounted for 10 percent of the group’s technical soccer business and 20 percent of soccer fan apparel sales. “The women’s soccer category is growing at a faster rate than the men’s,” he added, noting Adidas has increased its estimate of sales from the World Cup to 1.2 billion euros, or $1.5 billion at current exchange.
Women were certainly a visible and audible addition to the stands here, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the audience in Germany. Yet, in the stands, soccer style for women is more tempered than that of their beer-drinking male counterparts.
“We are better fans then the men: Our egos don’t get involved and we don’t look ridiculous,” said 23-year-old Olga Holeksova from the Czech Republic, draping a flag over her shoulders.
At the Fan Mile, a public viewing event around the Brandenburg Gate, female fans added to the kaleidoscope of bright colors. While some opted for discreet touches, such as national flag or flower necklaces in their national colors, others went for a total soccer look, with ultrafitted spandex tops, sexy skirts and face paint.
Fashion, however, can sometimes play an even greater role than nationalism when choosing an outfit during the World Cup.
“You don’t have to be from the country itself in order to wear the jersey,” explained 22-year-old Gandja Monteiro from India, who opted for Brazil’s green and yellow colors. “Brazil’s is the most popular fan wear for girls.”
But, since fashion is fickle, it’s the soccer heartthrobs such as Italy’s Fabio Grosso or France’s Thierry Henry who are really getting all the attention this Cup round. At least that’s the case for 14-year-old Lea Ossmann and her friends. “We watch it for the boys,” she joked.