Sweat, rain and 'lovely' women: Uefa chief's recipe to boost game

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The Independent Football

After a season spent grappling with racism and thuggery in the male game, the white ageing men who run football were always anxious that the women's Euro 2005 tournament should showcase their progressive mindset.

It was in this spirit that Lennart Johansson, the avuncular Swedish president of Uefa, football's governing body in Europe, stepped forward as a paragon of non-sexist praise of women in the beautiful game after Norway's dramatic semi-final victory over Sweden.

Speaking to a BBC interviewer amid the roar of the crowd at Blackburn's Ewood Park on Thursday night, the septuagenarian Mr Johansson berated his opposite number at the world governing body, Fifa, for suggesting that female players should wear "tighter shorts".

The Uefa chief, a leading member of football's governing blazerati, breezily described the remarks by 69-year-old Sepp Blatter as "a joke - and not a very clever one".

So far, so very refreshingly non-sexist. Until, that is, Mr Johansson was asked seconds later for his thoughts on how to further promote the women's game following the success of this month's tournament in England. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I think they should turn to the sponsors. There are so many companies who could make use of the fact that if you see a girl playing on the ground, sweaty, with the rainy weather and coming out the dressing room, lovely looking, that would sell."

After coming perilously close to advocating what sounded like a footballing wet T-shirt contest, the Uefa chief compounded his problems by appearing to suggest that a focus on the physical attributes of women might be the only way forward."Otherwise, they have to accept that the money they ask for comes when the spectators are coming and when sponsors are interested."

The comments did little to endear Mr Johansson, 75, with the players he was trying to praise. His compatriots in particular were less than impressed. The Swedish international Frida Ostberg, whose side lost 3-2 in extra time to Norway in a match watched by the Uefa president, said: "I get really fed up of this sort of thing. In a superficial world it is what is on the surface that sells, but we should be interesting for what we do on the pitch."

Helen Donohoe, the head of policy for the Women's Sports Foundation, said: "It's astonishing. It really reflects how out of touch the higher echelons of football are. I cannot imagine some other president of another sport like swimming or athletics saying something so crass."

The remarks are likely to rankle organisers of Euro 2005, which concludes tomorrow with the final between Norway and the three-time winners Germany.

The tournament has been heralded as further proof of the growing popularity of women's football and a rare example of a good news story compared to the male equivalent, which continues to be sullied by the misbehaviour of players and racism among fans.

The three games of the England team in Euro 2005 were watched by 70,000 spectators and three million tuned in for the side's defeat by Sweden on Saturday - giving BBC 2 a 13 per cent audience share.

In comments thought to have cost him the presidency of Fifa in 1996, Mr Johansson was recorded saying of Africans: "They have rhythm, emotions, dance. They move in that way we don't. I do not know what is built into the black race but I have noticed that they don't seem to like swimming."