Sun Wen is one of the best women footballers in the world. This tricky striker played a major part in China’s second place in the Women’s World Cup USA 1999. Now she hopes her team will hit the headlines again at the Olympic Tournament in Sydney in September.
Since the Chinese team took the silver medal at the Women’s World Cup USA 1999, there has been widespread interest in the country in the women’s side of the game. Television has helped this surge in popularity, as Sports Editor Li Ning of China TV explains: "Our channel broadcasts a programme called Soccer Night, and without the women being included there would certainly be something missing."
The level of interest is so high that it has almost reached the status of a passion for many Chinese, with the result that China TV felt obliged last spring to send a unit to cover the Algarve Cup in Portugal, a tournament involving the very best women’s teams in the world.
A curious consequence of the intense interest in the women’s game was noted last April during the voting for Asia’s "Team of the Year." The Chinese ladies not only took the women’s category but the men’s as well. And Sun Wen as the star of the side was nominated in the men’s list for the title of the outstanding sportsman.
China’s love for women’s football seems to know no bounds at the moment. When the Shanghai team took the pitch for their first game in the new season recently there were 25,000 spectators there to cheer them on, even though every match of the Super Cup winners and last season’s runners-up is televised live in the region.
Many of the fans come primarily to watch Sun Wen. Now 27, and born and raised in Shanghai, she has played for the club for a number of years. She lives with her parents in this huge city, where they have a five room apartment with two bathrooms - generous accommodation, not only by Chinese standards.
Sun Wen Superstar
But then Sun Wen is not just anybody. She is one of the world’s best women footballers, arguably the best. Last January at the FIFA World Player Gala in Brussels she won both the Golden Shoe and the Golden Ball as top scorer and best player at the 1999 Women’s World Cup in the USA - a great honour for this pleasant Chinese girl. But despite her personal success she has not forgotten that her team only came second - defeated by the home side on penalties. So the captain of the Chinese team is looking forward with high expectation to the next big tournament - the Olympic Games in Sydney, where she hopes they will get their revenge for the defeat in Los Angeles: "I think we will be able to take gold this time."
But whatever the outcome in Sydney, Sun Wen is looking forward to the occasion. Perhaps because in Australia she will not be so much in the public eye as she is at home, where she can hardly ever enjoy much peace. The days when she was just a woman footballer are long gone - now she is a star, in fact a superstar. If she takes a walk through Shanghai then she is immediately recognised by people in the street and asked for her autograph or for a souvenir photo. She is always receiving honours, attending PR functions and becoming the subject of a personality cult - the price of Sun Wen’s success.
Yet she deals with all the attention that she draws in a relatively relaxed manner. When she is with close friends she can show her love of life, indulge her curiosity, express her opinions, let her sensitive nature come to the surface, demonstrate her self-confidence - things she cannot do when she is in the limelight and surrounded by lobbyists. "I’d rather all these people would support us in the stadium," she says.
Which is where she says she feels most at home - out on the pitch, with the ball at her feet, taking on opponents, hitting superb passes or going for goal.
After her team had won second place in the FIFA Women's World Cup last year, Sun Wen, China's captain and voted tournament's best player, sat down and wrote a song. Here FIFA Magazine presents the first verse of the song, translated from the original Chinese:
Rose, rose, growing up in the winds and rains / Football, football, being played emotionally / Rosy, football is our game / come on girls, do not wait to follow your dreams.
Three game shows and poetry
There is more to Sun Wen’s life than football and publicity. She is enrolled as a literature student at Shanghai University and also finds time to appear on television. A telegenic personality, she is the presenter of several local programmes - a talk show and three games shows: "Intelligent Surfing", "Happy Camp" and "Happiness Express".
In her free time she likes to think of herself as a romantic. She likes music and sings a lot; Elton John’s "Candle in the Wind" is her favourite song. She also takes her interest in literature beyond her studies and writes poetry, one of her pieces appearing in a Chinese newspaper, an achievement of which she is very proud. Yet she is quick to point out that she does not write for the public: "My poetry is composed just for me, not for commercial reasons. The themes I prefer are holidays, people, cities, trees and mountains. Anything that touches my emotions can come into a poem, but I want all that to remain private."
Sun Wen made a little exception to her rule for FIFA Magazine (see box). This is the first part of a song she composed last autumn after her team’s great success in the Women’s World Cup. The subject - what else could it be but women’s football. It is not a song of praise but an encouragement for youngsters to follow Sun Wen’s example and to take up football.
She herself recalls how she started with the game, when she was a very young girl. At that time football was a game for boys only in China, but she was lucky: "Many fathers were not happy about letting their daughters play football, but mine was different - a fact about which I was, and still am, very happy." Perhaps it is no great surprise to learn that he had played football himself and is now one of his daughter’s keenest fans.