Sport on the Internet

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FOOTBALL, OF the round-ball variety, may not yet occupy a central place in the collective consciousness of the United States, but a crowd of 90,000 turned up on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, to see the US beat China on penalties in the final of the Women's World Cup. Many more logged on to the official Website to check out this re-staging of the 1996 Olympic final, which the US also won.

Those interested could discover that England failed to reach the final stages. Despite the subsequent lack of domestic interest, the competition was fascinating in terms of sports sociology. There's a zeitgeist developing and the Websites covering the event proclaimed it. Football, especially women's, is good, egalitarian, life-affirming, an antidote to jaded professionalism. No wonder Elizabeth Dole hired a plane to fly over the stadium towing a banner: "Go Team USA!" with the electioneering rider "Make History - Elizabeth Dole".

Soccer, as football is almost universally referred to on the Web outside of British-based sites, may lag behind baseball, basketball et al, but, as the online magazine La Concha points out in an in-depth article, its popularity is booming in the States, especially among the young, where more people play the beautiful game than American football and baseball combined.

The youthful emphasis was evident on most sites that covered the event. WWC on the WWW says it is not responsible for visitors suffering extreme happiness or not getting their homework done. Links to CDNow enable rapid online purchase of the competition theme song "Because We Want To" by Billie. The site also provides facilities for fans to construct their own Web pages about their teams. China's Sun Wen seems to get the nod as World Cup diva, her skills winning over fans of different nationalities.

Besides encouraging partying and painting faces in team colours, WWC visitors are urged to put girl power into practice: "In honor of WWC 99, help a young girl you know start playing soccer. Every girl should have the opportunity to play."

The official site, while strong on facts about the history of the competition, player profiles, and news and analysis of each stage, also has some of that empowerment feeling about it. A QuickTime movie, with a girl playing keepy-up intercut with scenes from women's football, has a voice over: "This game's not about how cool I am... how big I am... money... chromosomes... or a single player. This is my game. This is my future. Watch me play." Seems more convincing than the typical Premiership post-match quotes.

Those uncomfortable with all this feel-good inspirational philosophy are well catered for with the official site's stats centre. Although "team offense" is a category that looks alien at first, it's merely a blanket term to cover such traditional staples as: matches played, number of shots on goal, etc. China edged the US in all these categories. Shame there were no stats for penalty shoot-outs.