The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 kicks off in exactly three years from now. It is also six months since the Organising Committee (OC) began work on preparations for the showcase event. We asked 35-year-old Steffi Jones for an initial update on progress so far.
The OC president took stock of her first half year in office, named the most important decisions to be taken in the second half of 2008, and suggested lessons and pointers the OC might draw from the recent UEFA EURO 2008.
She also assessed the situation ahead of the new German Women’s Bundesliga season, and analysed the potential impact on the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 of a decent showing by the German women’s team at the Beijing Olympics. Finally, the former world and European champion told us how she has grown into the job of OC president in the last six months, and how she has changed as a person in that time.
2011 OC: The OC office opened for business in January 2008. Six months later, what’s the current state of preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011?
I’m just amazed at how fast the first half year has flown by. And I’m astonished at just how much has been achieved in such a short space of time. We’ve appointed our ambassadorial team. We’ve unveiled the official logo. We’ve finalised the dates for the tournament. We’ve held extremely promising talks with various National Supporters. Our OC is completely up and running. We’re genuinely right on schedule and totally happy with the current state of affairs. That’s how it has to go on.
With three years still to go, is the general public actually aware there’s a FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011?
Definitely. Taking my diary as an indicator, and all the people who want to see me and talk to me about things, I’d have to say the level of interest is already enormous. Obviously, you have to differentiate between when and where it makes sense for the OC to be represented by its president, avoiding clashes with high-profile events such as the recent EURO or the forthcoming Olympics. Any number of people come up to me every day when I’m out and about or shopping, asking if they can buy tickets for the World Cup yet, or whether they can be certain of getting into the stadiums.
And what do you tell them?
That I can definitely guarantee tickets for the opening match and the Final (laughs). And that all the other matches won’t be a problem either.
Essen has just been dropped from the list of candidate host cities. Why?
We didn’t receive a resolution regarding the construction of a new stadium by the official deadline, so we couldn’t continue to include Essen as a potential venue. It was a painful decision, because Essen is renowned as a football-loving city and Rot-Weiss boast a rich history as a club.
How about the other candidates?
Winfried Nass, our section head for cities and stadiums, tells me that the contracts are all drawn up from our side. They’re currently being agreed with FIFA and will be sent out to the appropriate people at the eleven cities and stadiums in the next few days. We’re very impressed by all the bids. It’s going to be a really difficult decision.
Ulrich Wolter took over as general coordinator on 1 July. What are his responsibilities as a member of the OC?
He has tremendous experience from his time as head of the OC satellite office in Leipzig for the 2006 World Cup, and has just completed an assignment as EURO 2008 venue manager for Salzburg. Obviously, we’re hoping to make best use of his range of experience. He’ll be the link man between myself and the heads of section, and the channel for all operational matters on the OC. He’ll be a very great help to me. He’ll also be focused on the U-20 World Cup, which we’re staging here in Germany as a dry run in 2010, and he’ll put the necessary procedures in place.
What are the most important decisions and milestones for the rest of this year?
We have an eventful autumn ahead of us. We have to finalise our host cities and stadiums for 2011. It’s a vital decision because it impacts on everything else we do. We want to unveil a big-name team of major personalities, who’ll go out promoting and demonstrating the philosophy of this World Cup to the general public. We want to unveil the official slogan. And by the end of the year, we want to be looking at an efficient ticketing concept, so we can start ticket sales in 2009. In terms of marketing, we want to have all six National Supporters signed up by the end of 2008.
How much will these key sponsors contribute to the OC budget?
The German FA (DFB) is budgeting for €50 million in revenue, approximately half each from ticket sales and from the National Supporters.
You spent some time at the UEFA EURO 2008 recently. Were there any particular lessons or observations you found helpful or relevant to your work?
There’s no doubt that Public Viewing, especially here in Germany, was yet again a great success. I’d like to see something similar at our World Cup. What I personally really took note of for the first time was the event before kick-off. I never really noticed or experienced this colourful and impressively choreographed spectacular, because as a player I was always stuck in the dressing room with the team. We need to plan these things into our Women’s World Cup, and I’ll be getting involved personally on the creative front. I was also very much taken by the increasing proportion of women and girls at the stadiums and Public Viewing events. They definitely played a major part in generating a positive enthusiasm which the folks in Austria and Switzerland hardly dared hope for before the EURO. What it means for our World Cup is that we won’t just be relying on family-oriented festivals at individual matches, we can count on a very solid foundation of female visitors as individuals or in groups.
How have you grown into the role and responsibilities of being OC president?
I’m a lot more confident and relaxed than I was at the start. I’ve definitely grown into this leadership position over the last few months and I’m now totally confident of my ability as the boss. My initial reticence is rapidly disappearing in this respect. I’ve noticed I’m choosing my words more carefully, I take more time in answering questions. I regard myself as not merely a representative, I’ve grown into a genuine line manager, involved in any number of operative areas.
What does that mean in practice?
I’ve noticed how I’ve picked up expertise and become more competent. I’ve realised I have to set out requirements and also voice criticism. Smiling Steffi has become more serious. Not because I’m in a bad mood more often, but because I have to deal with serious technical issues more frequently and more intensively. It’s doing me a lot of good personally, and I’m getting very positive feedback in this respect.
Which of your overseas trips has left the biggest impression?
It was definitely Chile, and the reception by the head of state. Just entering the president’s office left me in a state of shock and awe. Chile was really, really terrific.
Six months into the job, how are relations with FIFA?
Good and very co-operative. We meet a lot on a working basis, and you sense FIFA’s delight at our advanced progress. But you do notice that in certain areas FIFA’s true priority is the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which is totally understandable.
The new season in the German Women’s Bundesliga starts shortly. FFC Frankfurt, your former club, won the treble last term. Will they continue to dominate, or do you expect a more level playing field?
I think it’ll be much closer, because there have been a number of transfers which should even things out a lot. FFC cleaned up last season, but it was a neck-and-neck race with Duisburg in the Bundesliga right to the last day. Last year’s two-horse race could easily become a three or four-way fight this season, because the Bundesliga is becoming increasingly professional, with more full-time head coaches. Also, our extremely promising younger players are becoming more stable and consistent. The important thing is for our Bundesliga clubs to do their homework in sporting and professional terms. Once the level of performance is there, they can put PR programmes in place, which we at the OC intend to support, and reach out to a wider public.
First of all, we have the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in August. How will the German team’s progress impact on further preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011?
Obviously, it would be fantastic if our team came home from China as “Golden Girls" in a very literal sense. That would allow us to present the national team as an additional spearhead in our PR drive for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011. But a good and successful tournament for the national team would also be important for the girls’ and women’s game in Germany as a whole. From my own experience I know it can be the crowning glory of a sporting career. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed, not just for the national football team, but for all Germany’s athletes and medal hopefuls in Beijing.