US ambassador hails football's power

Football has often been described as the most important minor matter in the world. However, for Philip D. Murphy, USA's Ambassador to Germany since August 2009, football is not so much a minor matter but an effective tool to fulfill his ambassadorial tasks. In the following interview with the Organising Committee of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 Ambassador Murphy, former head of Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt and co-owner of the US women’s professional football club Sky Blue, describes why he is so passionate about the beautiful game, and particularly when the ones playing are women.

As a big football fan, was it a nice coincidence for you to be appointed U.S.  Ambassador to Germany, the country that will be hosting the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011?
It was a great coincidence. I’m thrilled about the Women’s World Cup 2011 as it’s going to be a great opportunity for women’s football. I expect that I’ll be back in Augsburg as well as in the other venues to watch some games.

Do you consider football, and particularly big football events, as a powerful tool for public diplomacy?
No question. I think football is unique as a sport that brings people together. One of the most important aspects of football is that it takes no investment to play, only talent. You just need a ball. Around the world you see kids, both girls and boys, from a whole range of economic and social backgrounds, come together to play football. So yes, it’s a wonderful tool in public diplomacy.

Your kids Emma, Sam, Josh and Charlie showed up in Hertha BSC jerseys on the occasion of your presentation in Berlin in August 2009, and people still talk about it.  Was it the best way you found to introduce yourself to German society?
This is an example of what I was talking about.  Actually it was a surprise arranged by my wife. The unfortunate thing is that Hertha have not been doing so well since then.

How did you become such a great fan of women’s football as opposed to American football or baseball?
Believe me I do like other sports. I grew up in Boston where I supported both the baseball and American football team.  Mia Hamm’s husband, Nomar Garciaparra, used to be one of our stars with the Red Sox. Nevertheless, there is something magical about the beautiful game, about football, and it’s played particularly well by women. When you think about the range of sports, football is really special, especially for women.

For you, what’s the best thing about women’s football?
Someone said to me that men were stronger and faster, but I’m not sure if this is always the case. There are some phenomenal women in countries like the USA, Germany and Brazil. Take Marta, who is as fast as anybody I have ever seen playing the game. Instead of speed and strength, if you look at finesse and the quality of the moves on and off the ball, I think women are particularly good.

You have one of the busiest jobs in Germany. How do you manage to keep your passion for football alive?
I do a lot of work with football. One of the things we’ve succeeded in doing here since arriving is to combine my day job with my passion for football. The game between the USA and Germany in Augsburg was a great example, as Augsburg’s mayor, the head of the Green Party Claudia Roth, the left party, the CSU, many members of business and the press all attended the game. Football provides a rare opportunity to become an integral part of a community.

As an active promoter of women’s football in the USA, can you identify aspects of the overall development strategy implemented in your country that could also be applied in Germany?
I don’t think we can teach Germany about how to develop women’s football. Germany is one of the long standing powers in both men’s and women’s football. Germany are top 5 in both, and they have the best attendance in men’s football through the Bundesliga. It’s hard to think of anything we can teach. Perhaps the piece of US public policy that has had the most impact on the women’s game is something called Title IX. It was a policy passed in the early 1970s, and it stipulated that for every public dollar spent in a men’s and boys sporting activity, the same money should be spent in that of women and girls.  That, more than anything else, has led to the dominant position we currently enjoy in a number of women’s sports.

The United States and Germany are the top two national teams in the FIFA Women’s World Ranking. Do you see parallels in the way women’s football has developed in both countries over recent years? What are the main differences at both national team and club level?
Germany has had a professional league since the nineties, and we started a professional league in 2003, although that went out of business, leading to the formation of a new one this year. One big difference is that Germany’s league has been more successful and longstanding than ours. In terms of similarities, we share a deep commitment to winning and success. The USA have historically pulled a lot of their stars out of the universities – Mia Hamm was indeed a North Carolina graduate. In my opinion, if a game gets physical, then Germany are favorites, but if it’s a contest involving speed, I think America would be favorites.

What can Germany learn from the two editions of the Women’s World Cup hosted by the United States?
We did organise two Women’s World Cups, but the one in 2003 was done at last minute, because China could not host it due to the SARS epidemic. The big lesson to be learnt, frankly, is that 100,000 people showed up for the 1999 World Cup final in Pasadena, but we didn’t have that number at the final in 2003. The lesson therefore is just what Germany is doing: start with the organisation several years in advance and begin the process of building up towards it. Germany can also learn from its own experience as the 2006 Men’s World Cup was a spectacular success.

What are your expectations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011?
It will be an outstanding tournament. I assume Germany will be one of the favorites if not the favorite. If they are already formidable playing on neutral grounds, they will be particularly formidable playing at home. I also hope the US team will be very competitive, and I expect to see a strong Brazilian side as well. I saw England playing Germany at the EURO final, and they are impressive. And let’s keep in mind the Scandinavian teams, who always perform well. It’s going to be a good World Cup.

Would USA – Germany be the perfect final for you?
The USA against Germany at my former home state, Frankfurt am Main, would be a perfect final.

And who would win?
I would have enormous sympathy for Germany, but the USA would win that game.

And would President Obama be there as well?
I can’t speak for President Obama, but I know he would be deeply interested. He is a big fan of sports, and his daughters play. He knows how important sport is.