|WORLD CUP CHAMPS|
July 12, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Women's soccer ruled the American sports world this past weekend. The U.S. won the World Cup in an overtime penalty kick shoot-out with China. Here are two highlights: A spectacular save of a shot during overtime that would have won the game for China, and the winning kick by American Brandi Chastain.
ANNOUNCER: The sun is in her eyes here. The U.S. is definitely is lacking size and height.
ANNOUNCER: Off the corner from China. Saved at the line! That ball was headed for goal! Requirement inside the box. (Whistle blows)
ANNOUNCER: Goal! (Cheers and applause)
JIM LEHRER: And with us now, Donna De Varona, chair of the 1999 Women's World Cup organizing Committee, Gold Medal swimming champion in the 1964 Olympics, and longtime sportscaster, and Sandy Bailey, editor of the new Sports Illustrated Magazine for Women. Ms. De Varona, they are calling Sunday's game the most successful women's sports event ever. Do you agree with that?
DONNA DE VARONA: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
DONNA DE VARONA: Well, it was a team sport. It was legitimate. Soccer is the most popular sport around the world. And one of the tests that we've fought in trying to gain acceptance in supporting women's sports is the test of can you fill stadiums, can you get the ratings? Well, we sold over 650,000 tickets. We had a rating of 13, which I guess translates into 40 million homes. And we met people on every standard. And it was a global celebration as well.
JIM LEHRER: I said Sunday. Obviously, it was Saturday. Ms. Bailey, do you agree the most successful women sports event ever, according to Ms. DeVarona?
SANDY BAILEY: I would say yes as far as a single event, Donna is very right. And the last thing she talked about there, the TV ratings, is just a huge hurdle that women have never been able to get over prior to this game, other than in figure skating. I mean, you're talking about that we've been able to fill arenas for a while but not to bring that excitement into people's homes. And this is just such a change it's really wonderful.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, what caused it? What was there about this particular event that generated all this, that generated the crowds, that generated the interest and generated the TV interest and the TV ratings?
DONNA DE VARONA: Well, I think first of all had you a winning team. Our team won the first World Cup in '91. Then we came back to the United States -- and this is significant -- at the Atlanta Olympics - when it was touted as the women's Olympics because of the team sports and we won the Gold Medal there. We also had stars, we had our star in Mia Hamm. Also, people forget that Title 9 and the federal law passed in 1972 that opened the door for women's scholarships had planted the seeds of opportunity, but still up until 1986, there were only a handful of women's soccer programs in this country. Now there are over 761. So, you know, you had the nurturing programs in our collegiate system, plus you had a soccer federation that decided to introduce this sport in our communities with a gender-blind attitude providing opportunities for athletes on every level. You know, you didn't just have the varsity mentality. Many schoolchildren can enjoy the sport even if they are not great at it. So I think you built a base of grass-root support. We do have 18 million soccer players in this country, and 7 1/2 million of them are women. And that's where your core audience came from.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Miss Bailey?
SANDY BAILEY: I think it's as simple as girl power.
JIM LEHRER: Girl power.
SANDY BAILEY: I mean, this whole generation of girls who are looking very much for role models, they're looking for inspirational stories and they really don't have to look any farther than this team to find them. And I think soccer is a hugely growing sport with young women in this country. But I think the story of this team just goes way, way, way beyond that particular sport. And it's every little girl and it's every teenager and college student who plays sports.
JIM LEHRER: And not necessarily soccer, just any women's sport?
SANDY BAILEY: Yes. I think this story is way, way beyond just soccer. I think it's a story of women coming of age as athletes and being taken seriously and also being taken as, you know, just very cool people who, you know, endorsers want to have selling their products, too.
JIM LEHRER: But now has there been any research yet - I mean, I guess there hasn't been time to analyze whether it was just women or just young girls who were watching on Saturday?
SANDY BAILEY: Oh, it very much was not just girls and young women. You know, the initial overnights have shown that throughout. I mean this has been guys watching sports. And I think that's going to be part of the legacy here that the boys and the young men who grow up watching these women on TV will never, ever in their lives, say, you know, why does she play sports? Or, oh, that's odd, there's a woman there playing. I mean, as far as they're concerned, it's just a very good athlete and they enjoy watching them. They enjoy watching them not even arguably -- measurably more than they enjoy watching men play soccer in this country.
DONNA DE VARONA: And I think it's also significant about the new language created by daughters and dads. I mean, this is something the fathers can take their daughters to do on weekends and also a relationship of a language between young kids. I mean my son's 11 years old, and he took one of his best friends to the soccer match. And when it was all over, she said thank you. So it's a wonderful way to bond not only between young people, but between fathers and their daughters and, of course mothers as well because we know about soccer moms.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Well, there are two things here at work, Ms. DeVarona. One of them has to do with - now we're talking about legacy. Miss Bailey just used the word legacy. One legacy has to do with soccer. One legacy has to do -- as a sport, period -- whether it's played by men or women. And another one has to do with women's sports generally. Let's take that one first. What do you think this point means for women's sports in general from this point on?
DONNA DE VARONA: Well, I think there is still this debate about abolishing Title 9, the federal law that gave us opportunities. I think that we still need that law because men still get $112 million more in scholarship money than we do in this culture, in this country. I think it means that we can meet any standard professionally or the rite of passage in our schools and our communities, but I would like to see an opening up of providing more opportunities for more young people in sport, whether it means a coalition of getting Olympic committees together and the independent sports federations that run individual sports in the universities. I think that this has expressed a need and hunger for our young people to have opportunities that are healthy and positive. I think the attraction of this team is that families can go into a safe environment that's affordable in big stadiums and enjoy a day watching role models that are really exuberant and fun to watch.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that, Miss Bailey, just on the general women's sports angle?
SANDY BAILEY: Well, I would say that it's come at just the right time, not just because of all the legal reasons and the scholarship reasons, which are very valid, that Donna pointed out, but also because of what has happened in this country with professional athletes. I think there's a little bit of a backlash against sort of -- you know -- the spoiled athlete syndrome. I mean, we see baseball, basketball in particular with the lockout last year, unfortunately --, you know, the image is a bit of cry babies and overpaid athletes and folks who really don't embrace their role model job and don't even want it. And I think we've seen the total opposite with these women. You know, we see them signing autographs. We see them - you know -- saying this is about our fans. This is for the girls. They want to leave a legacy. And this is just very different. It's very refreshing. And I think it's coming at exactly the right time in this country not only to win fans, you know, for the game and for the women, but really to boost these women and their stature in the community.
JIM LEHRER: But is there a danger, Ms. Bailey, that it could boost these women right into the star status that men are now having, just the negative that you were talking about?
SANDY BAILEY: Well, I think we'll take that risk. You know, women are no more moral gate keepers than men are in the long run, but right now their stories are very, very fresh and they have a long way to go before they are even paid, you know, minimum wage on any sporting level. I mean the women of the WNBA had to fight to get health insurance, so, you know, I think if we can get to be spoiled athletes we'll be real happy.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. DeVarona, let me ask you on the soccer question.
DONNA DE VARONA: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Men's soccer has never made it here in the United States.
DONNA DE VARONA: No.
JIM LEHRER: I mean, it's a huge sport everywhere else in the world. You gave the statistics a moment ago - one of you all did about the millions of young people playing soccer in the United States. But professional soccer hasn't made it on television or anywhere else. Can women's soccer do it?
DONNA DE VARONA: I think women's soccer can do it but I think more significant is that if our men had gone to Paris and won the World Cup, they would command the audience, too. We like to see the best athletes. We have a big event mentality and I think men's soccer is on the way. And I think if we do produce a winning team, you'll see filled stadiums.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that, Ms. Bailey?
SANDY BAILEY: I think certainly the fact that the U.S. men lost to Iran, for example, definitely held them back. But I would disagree that I think that the women have the potential in the next decade to be bigger than the men are at this point no matter how much the men win, sort of a joke that soccer is the sport of the future and always will be in the United States. And certainly the winner thing has a lot to do with it. But I think it also, you know, in the professional leagues, has to do with the home grown nature of the sport. And it is the sport of the world, not the U.S., in the men's game. But in the women's game, because it's so much smaller in terms of how many countries have really developed soccer systems I think it is very much worldwide the sport of the U.S. and a couple of other countries, you know, China and Corway. It's our game. It's not our game in the men's field.
JIM LEHRER: So it's possible that men could continue to have football and say baseball but soccer will be the women's sport and just become just as big in a comparable way?
SANDY BAILEY: I think soccer and basketball are the two sports that certainly we at Sports Illustrated for Women see lift themselves in terms of participatory interest and reader interest far above all the other women's sports at this point.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Ms. DeVarona, what about the possibility of a professional soccer league for women here in this country?
DONNA DE VARONA: I think that would be launched after the year 2000, right after the Olympics, and we're looking into that on a smaller stadium basis. I'd like to say also that our players did get a million dollars bonus, which was because of the revenues of this sport. However, we'd like to see the international federation that gave us this sport and this World Cup opportunity come up with the prize money that they gave the men. That's why there's such a disparity between the men -
JIM LEHRER: What's the difference?
DONNA DE VARONA: The difference is that our men make the World Cup international competition their guaranteed $3 million. FIFA, the International Federation, did not give prize money for this tournament for the winning women. So, we have a big distance to go -
JIM LEHRER: Three million for the team -
DONNA DE VARONA: -- the same standards for women - yes.
JIM LEHRER: Not $3 million for each player?
DONNA DE VARONA: No. It s $3 million for the team.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Versus - it was a bonus of $1 million that was -
DONNA DE VARONA: That was provided by us, the organizing committee and U.S. Soccer, not the international federation.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, anyhow, thank you both for being with us.
DONNA DE VARONA: Thank you.
SANDY BAILEY: Thank you.