The Big Interview - FIFA Women's World Cup CEO Steffi Jones

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Steffi Jones with the Women's World Cup trophy in London last week (Getty)
(WFI) FIFA Women’s World Cup CEO Steffi Jones eyes full stadiums for this summer’s tournament in Germany and believes that the women’s game in England is on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Three years after her retirement from a trophy-studded playing career, the engaging former Germany international – a World Cup winner herself in 2003 – is heading the local organising committee for the tournament that kicks off on June 26.

“The transition [from playing in a World Cup to organising one] really surprised me,” she tells INSIDER, while visiting London last week.

“I mean, you come on the field [as a player] and can easily say ‘Why’s that not there? Why’s that not done? Or why aren’t we having a full stadium?’

“But now I know how much hard work it is, working on the other side. It is a great experience and I’ve learned so much out of it, and I’m really happy that I got the opportunity.”

Jones said that the “first ambition” of the LOC is to have full stadiums.

With 500,000 tickets already sold she is well on her way to fulfilling that ambition, and revealed that a further 90,000 tickets were sold following the draw, when it became clear where England were playing their matches.

She believes that Germany’s old rivals, the USA and Brazil will be the biggest draws of the finals – along with the hosts.

Jones is respectful of previous tournaments, saying the intention isn’t to be the greatest Women’s World Cup, but to “write our own World Cup history like the others did".

“China was great, USA was great, and ours is going to be the same,” she says.

“I know we have a lot of pressure because FIFA says Germany is going to be the best. That’s not our aim that we’re going for. It’s a World Cup and it’s a great chance for Germany. But also worldwide, we hope it will open doors and make acknowledgement a little bigger for all the teams.”

Boost for women's football in England; Jones on sexism controversy
She singled out England – longstanding rivals of Germany in both the men’s and women’s games – as being on the verge of a breakthrough moment.

An eight-club women’s semi-professional league kicks off in April and The Football Association is supporting it to the tune of £3 million over two years, while ESPN has also agreed a broadcast deal.

“Here you will see that all the players will stay here for the next year,” she said, signalling a reverse in the trend that
Jones with tournament ambassador and former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. London was one of the stops on the Women's World Cup welcome tour of the 16 participating nations (Getty)
has seen the country lose several of its best players to overseas professional leagues.

“Here, you are hosting the Olympic Games, so why would you go somewhere else when you need your preparation? This is a fantastic chance, building up your own league and a foundation that is stable to last. That’s just a chance that they have.”

Jones inadvertently walked into the eye of a storm over sexism in football on her London visit.

In the days before INSIDER met with Jones, Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray had been forced to leave their roles after unflattering comments made about a female assistant referee, Sian Massey, were caught on tape and leaked to the press.

Jones was at once phlegmatic and scathing about the pair and suggested that they deserved to be punished.

“I was not surprised since I know that we as women maybe talk the same about men,” she admitted.

“But any discrimination should be punished if it is discrimination. Always feel about how you would feel [if you heard comments made about yourself], even if it is off air. That’s the question I would ask.”

She praised the likes of Massey and German referee Bibiana Steinhaus (who officiates in Bundesliga 2 and serves as a fourth official in Germany’s top flight) were trailblazers, but said that only women who were “special” should partake in the men’s game.

“I think you will always have women that are special or better than usual,” she said.

“So there will be a woman stepping out and maybe even being the coach of a team. But she’s going to be so special and so good that that doesn’t mean every woman can coach a team.

“When there is someone who is really good that person deserves to be up there, whether it’s a man or a woman.”

Her focus remains firmly fixed on this summer’s World Cup, however, and the inroads that it might make for the women’s game globally.

“We have so much media coverage for the World Cup,” she promised. “The World Cup is going to be seen everywhere.”

Germany versus Canada at Berlin's Olympic Stadium is the opening match of the World Cup. The final takes place in Frankfurt on July 17.

By INSIDER’s James Corbett

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