With the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014 kicking off in just over three weeks' time, a series of established figures have been unveiled as the event's ambassadors. Notable among them is former FIFA Woman Player of the Century Sun Wen, who led China PR to second place at both the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Atlanta 1996 and the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 1999™.
For those participating in both the Girls and Boys' Football Competitions of the global games, Wen is indeed a perfect role-model from whom to draw inspiration. But it is the legend herself who admitted that she is "lucky" to have this opportunity to communicate with youngsters from across the world.
"I am feeling proud, and lucky to contribute in this role," Sun Wen, who scored 106 goals from 152 international appearances, told FIFA.com. "I am particularly glad to have a chance to get close to the young players, to share my experiences with them as well as to enjoy the competitions together with them."
Considering the fact that all players for the football tournaments are under 15, she points out that it is another big step forward in promoting football among global youth. "FIFA have long been focused on youth development, with both U-17 and U-20 World Cups adding to the Olympic Football Tournaments. The Youth Olympic Football Tournaments are the newest attempts to reach out to youngsters."
Being an ambassador is also a role in synch with her current work as the Technical Director of Shanghai Football Association. "Over recent years my focus has been switched to youth development, including youth coach training, youth camps organisation, etc. Meanwhile, I was present at the past two FIFA U-17 Women's World Cups in Azerbaijan and Costa Rica as a member of the FIFA Organising Committees. So the Youth Olympic Games will provide me with fresh experiences and knowledge."
Women's youth football will take centre stage following the successful 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with both the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup and the Girls' Youth Olympic Football Tournament kicking off during August in Canada and China respectively. While of course next year will see the FIFA Women's World Cup take place in Canada. With the hectic agenda of women competitions, Sun Wen naturally switched her focus to global development trends in the women's game.
"The aforementioned efforts by FIFA and its member associations have made it possible for football to reach out to greater populations, and there are increasing fresh talents to come up from the ranks. For instance, at Costa Rica 2014, we witnessed the emergence of a series of gifted players from lesser-known women’s footballing countries and they dazzled the viewers with great skills. But the major trend is, generally, that a women’s team largely takes after their men's side to improve.
"As the last FIFA Women's World Cup showed, Japan looked in many ways similar to their men's team. They demonstrated identical passing, possession, tireless running and spirit as they became champions. Germany, for their part, showed similar organisational play to the side that recently won Brazil 2014. In a sense, a women's side can't develop independently and separately and it is very much dependent on the country's football environment."
Hopes for the hosts
Seemingly, she is proved right by China’s successful return to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a feat which Wen attributed to the recent development by the world’s second biggest economy.
“The general progress made by my country is evident,” she said. “The Super League has attracted increasing attention and the authorities have invested a great deal on youth development. We have initiated a plan of school development and there are more national camps and competitions established for the juniors.”
The girls’ football completion is, of course, regarded by the hosts as a rare chance to showcase their development with the team coach Lu Yiliang openly stating his intention of winning the gold medal. China captain, Zhao Yujie, a talented midfielder hailing from the same city as Sun Wen, also told FIFA.com about her ambitions for global success.
“I hope they can, above all, enjoy the competition,” said Sun Wen expressing her hopes for her fellow-Shanghainese and Co. “I hope they can make the best of the setting to make friends with the global participants, to exchange and learn from each other, to benefit from football both on and off the pitch. It is even more important than results.”