FIFA's Player of the Century washes her own uniform

April 21, 2006

BEIJING -- China's Sun Wen, FIFA Player of the Century, has been reduced to washing her own uniform in a hostel every evening while playing in the National Women's League in a suburb of Beijing.

Sun and her teammates are accommodated in rooms no more than six meters square (54 square feet) with dirty sheets on tiny beds, malfunctioning television sets and air-conditioning and a leaking toilet, according to a report in the China Youth Daily.

"I buy a plastic basin to do my laundry wherever I go," the 33-year-old Sun told the newspaper. "I'm afraid I'll have to bring my own bedclothes next time."

The striker had been retired for two years when she received a call for help late last year from China coach Ma Liangxing, who is looking to rebuild the national team in time for next year's World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, both of which China will host.

The China women's team, led by Sun, were losing finalists at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 1999 World Cup. Dubbed the "Steel Roses" by the media, the team was glorified as an icon of national spirit.

A shortage of young players coming through, however, has led to a slump since the 2000 Sydney Olympics and left the women's game in China without sponsors, fans or television coverage.

With teams unable to afford to travel, the National League is now a tournament in a quiet corner of Beijing with the country's top women players sometimes having to wait for hours in sopping wet shirts until there is hot water for a shower.

Sun, who shared the Player of the Century award with American Michelle Akers, is concerned that such circumstances will make it difficult to attract young women into the game.

"If the situation keeps getting worse, in the future no girl in China will play soccer any more," said the 2002 FIFA World Player of the Year.