Steffi Jones officially took office as President of the Organising Committee (OC) for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ on 1 January 2008. Since then, the 36-year-old former Germany international has become the most recognisable face and figurehead of the first FIFA Women's World Cup to be held on German soil. However, even some 12 months into her job, the President admits she is “continually surprised by the complexity of what we have to do as an OC”.
Steffi Jones, how did you mark the start of 2009?
I saw in the new year a long way from home, in Mauritius. My only aim was to relax after a very demanding year, and build up some reserves of energy before tackling all the things we have to do in 2009.
During your vacation, you must have occasionally reflected on your first full year as OC President. What was your personal highlight in 2008?
My appointment as OC President came as a huge surprise. Most of the duties were new to me, and that meant every appearance was pretty exciting. The most impressive thing for me was meeting Chilean head of state Michelle Bachelet at her official residence in Santiago.
Where does the OC stand after the first year of preparations for the 2011 event?
Thanks to everything we learned from the superbly organised 2006 World Cup, the OC knows exactly what has to be done next, and we’re extremely well prepared for that. I’m very satisfied with the current state of affairs, and I know we’re bang on schedule – or even slightly ahead of it.
What is the status in terms of marketing? By the end of 2008, the plan was to have signed up the six National Supporters, who will contribute around half the €51 million budget for the event.
Two contracts are signed and sealed. It looks very promising in every other case. We’ve essentially concluded verbal agreements. There’s nothing to worry about. Sponsorship revenues are as important in covering our budget as ticket receipts, especially as we’re not receiving any public subsidy.
With two and a half years to go until the big kick-off, is there much awareness of the first FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in Germany?
This is a really big difference to the 2006 World Cup, which was viewed as a national event from the moment preparations started, and steadily grew in importance in regional and local terms from there. It’s the other way round this time, where the major impulse is coming from the World Cup host cities. On our round of inaugural visits a few weeks ago, this is where we sensed real passion and tremendous commitment. Passion for the World Cup will radiate out from the host cities to the whole country in the months to come. The host cities are the driving force behind building a sense of anticipation. You see it very clearly, even at this early stage.
For an increasing number of people in Germany, and overseas too for that matter, you are the public face of the 2011 FIFA World Cup. Are you surprised by the speed with which this positive image and your amazing popularity scores have developed?
It’s happened surprisingly quickly, yes. Wherever I go nowadays, people recognise me and know who I am. But I don’t regard myself as being in the spotlight or as the centre of attention. All that matters is that people see me and make the link to the World Cup. Overall, we should be making more of the popularity of our women’s international stars in this respect.
At the start of your second year in office, how would you interpret your role as head of the Organising Committee?
I regard myself as one player in a terrific team, which has a huge spectrum of tasks superbly under control. Even now, I’m continually surprised by the variety and complexity of what we have to do as an OC, which is not something you’d ever think about as a player. But I’m happy to accept the responsibility that goes with being the boss. It’s like it used to be on the field of play. You need bags of intuition, the ability to spot any negative developments or disagreements nice and early, but also the need for an encouraging word from time to time. I do think women seem better attuned in this respect. I know how to deal with it, because team spirit is always my priority.
What has changed about the very important role you fill?
I’m a lot more confident about it now, especially when I’m dealing with people I used to think were out of my league. And although I’m still very informal, I’ve accepted the need to make shorter and more precise statements, not least because the same questions come up over and over again, and I need to have the answer ready. However, I’m determined to remain spontaneous and authentic, especially because I sense everyone’s well-disposed towards me, and I don’t have the feeling anyone’s trying to lure me into a trap.
What are the most important tasks in the coming year?
Top of the list is the start of match ticket sales. For that to succeed, we need to arouse passions and increase the sense of anticipation – and we need a coherent ticketing concept too. Then we have other supporting activities such as the start of Countdown events in the host cities, unveiling the match schedule, the slogan, the mascot and the World Cup posters. We’ll have 12 highlight-packed months. Our World Cup ambassadors Silke Rottenberg, Renate Lingor, Britta Carlson and Sandra Minnert will be permanently busy.
In terms of passion for the tournament, who can and who must provide additional impetus?
I’m hoping we’ll be able to build on proactive support from our National Supporters. And I’m also hoping for a real boost from thrilling matches and success from our women’s national team as defending champions at this year’s European championships.
After clocking up nearly 250,000 air miles in 2008, what will be the major emphasis of your presidency in 2009?
I’ll be mainly focused on the domestic situation, where I want to help raise awareness levels for the World Cup 2011, so that the start of ticket sales is a resounding success.
The 2011 tournament starts to take on more concrete dimensions with the start of qualifying in the second half of 2009. Will you attend any of those matches?
It’s more likely to be 2010, once qualifying is properly under way.
After a year of very high-profile preparations for the women’s World Cup, where do you think German women’s football presently stands?
There’s increasing coverage, and it’s increasingly relevant. The big question concerns the Women’s Bundesliga, and what it might gain from the World Cup in 2011.
The biggest match of the last round of Women’s Bundesliga fixtures before Christmas, between leaders Bayern Munich and their closest rivals Potsdam, attracted a crowd of just 463. What does that say to you?
It points to the absolute necessity of immediate structural reform to the Women’s Bundesliga, so the league can put the impetus provided by the World Cup to long-term use and profit. I’m continually exhorting the Bundesliga clubs to seize the initiative, raising their profile as clubs, and boosting awareness of their fundamentally very good product. That starts with the public and the media, and ultimately leads to sponsors. The OC wants to help in promoting the Bundesliga, but we can only supply short-term impulses. The decisive, long-term contribution has to come from the Bundesliga clubs themselves, in schools and at association level. And if they want to attract attention, they need to produce stars and personalities. FIFA President Sepp Blatter is right when he argues that women’s football overall lacks a star culture.
Nevertheless, the German women’s top flight is a lot more evenly-matched this season than for many years. Is that a helpful development in terms of preparing for the World Cup?
It’s definitely helpful. And it shows that clubs which have focused on promoting and expanding their youth development programmes in recent years are now starting to reap the benefit. The next step has to be establishing semi-pro status as the Bundesliga norm, so players can focus more intensively on their football – and obviously on completing their education – while not ending up burnt out. This is an area where the DFB academies and elite schools are very effective.
Turning to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2010 in Germany, what organisational steps are planned for 2009?
Some matches at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile at the end of last year attracted crowds of 16,000, and that should galvanise our efforts. OC general coordinator Uli Wolter attended the event along with Winfried Nass, the OC’s head of cities and stadiums. They took careful note of what they saw and reported the experience very positively. I personally witnessed the U-17 World Cup in New Zealand, which also attracted outstanding crowds of up to 17,000. A developed women’s football country like Germany should really be able to exceed anything they can do in Chile and New Zealand. The U-20 tournament from 14 July to 1 August 2010 has to be a highlight. We’ve already laid the foundations for success with the four host cities, Bochum, Bielefeld, Dresden and Augsburg.
What is the situation with the campaigns aiming to cement the profile of girls’ football beyond the FIFA World Cup in 2011?
We want to use the social campaigns as our way of becoming involved in the major charity project related to 2011. Our women’s and men’s internationals personally support a number of projects, which means the DFB’s social commitment is very broadly spread. The second element is the sustainability campaign, aiming to reach girls via their schools, and recruit them for our clubs. The programme includes training for club-level coaches. The flow into the clubs is remarkable, but we do lack coaches of both sexes.
You have been a member of the FIFA Committee for Women's Football and the FIFA Women's World Cup since September 2008. What are your responsibilities?
The important thing for me as the OC President is to be directly involved, so that I hear at first hand from FIFA, the World Cup hosts, about aims and expectations for 2011.