Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Women suddenly tune in to Euro 2004

AP , LISBON, PORTUGAL

A Czech Republic fan holds up a flag prior to a Group D match against Germany at Jose De Alvalade stadium in Lisbon. Female fans seem to be flocking to the event.

PHOTO: AFP

From Miss Bulgaria to flag-waving Portuguese grandmothers, from Croatian bankers draped in red and white to bikini-clad French teenagers, Euro 2004 has shown that Europe's soccer stadiums are longer just for the guys.

"A few years ago you'd hardly see a woman in the stadium," said Monica Santos, a writer at Portuguese sports daily O Jogo. "There's been a clear change over the past half-dozen years."

UEFA is still compiling statistics on the gender breakdown at Euro 2004 games. Research on fans watching on TV suggests about 40 percent of viewers in Britain and Spain were women.

The number of female faces spotted among the packed stadium in Sunday's crucial Spain-Portugal game would appear to reflect a similar breakdown.

"Why do I like football? I can't explain it, it's just a passion," said Spanish fan Rosana Maicas, 20. "I'm fascinated by it, inspired by it."

Working for an insurance firm in Switzerland, Maicas traveled to Lisbon with Swiss friend, and fellow fan, Bettina Hegetschweiler, 21, to watch the championship.

"There's less distinction now between what men do and what women do," Maicas said. "There are more women who like football, but there are also more men who like dancing for example ... it's to do with emancipation."

The emergence of players like David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg as fashion icons and the huge media coverage given big events like Euro 2004 has also increased interest from both sexes beyond hardcore soccer fans.

"It's such a big event, everybody wants to be here," said Croatia fan Anna Bereta, 27.

"I don't like football normally, I'm not a fan, but this is such a great event," added the banking product manager from Zagreb, her head wrapped in Croatia's red-and-white checkerboard colors.

The overhaul of European stadiums has also helped attract more women fans.

A few years ago fans at major stadiums in many European nations would face standing room only on packed concrete terraces, food outlets selling grease soaked hamburgers. Supporters would run the risk of hooligan violence and endure foul-smelling toilets -- if there were any at all for women.

Now a new generation of stadiums, like the architectural showpieces built around Portugal for Euro 2004, have comfortable seating, a range of catering outlets and proper restrooms for both sexes. Better security means hooliganism has largely been banished from the stadiums.

"The new stadiums are much more conformable, there are more conditions for women now," said soccer writer Santos. "Now I can go to any stadium without worrying if I'm going to find a bathroom ... that's a big factor."

Ruohong Zhang and her friend Xuan Xu traveled from Beijing to watch their soccer idols -- Spain's Raul and Portugal's Rui Costa -- in Lisbon.

"I've liked it for a long time, I can't really say why, it's just so exciting," she said.

She said some teams drew more female support than others.

"For Italy, it's mainly women," she said. "Because the Italian players are so good-looking."

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