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Women's Cup Back in the U.S.

FIFA relocates the 2003 event here after it took away tournament from China because of the SARS virus.

May 27, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

The United States has, in a manner of speaking, shanghaied the 2003 Women's World Cup.

On Monday, the 16-nation world championship was awarded to the U.S. by FIFA after world soccer's governing body ruled on May 3 that the tournament could not be played in China because of the SARS virus.

And so, instead of a final in Shanghai, there could be a final in the Arroyo Seco, the Rose Bowl being very much in the running to stage the championship game as it did four years ago in front of 90,185.

Exact dates and venues for the tournament will not be known for a couple of weeks, but it is expected to take place in four to seven stadiums "coast to coast" and close to its original Sept. 23-Oct. 11 dates.

"We now have approximately 120 days to do something that no one has ever attempted," said Bob Contiguglia, the president of U.S. Soccer. "Staging an event of this stature and size in this short amount of time will be a great challenge, but we will succeed."

The decision has yet to be made whether to have the tournament move chronologically from East to West or from West to East, but the former is more likely, making Los Angeles a possible site for the final.

"Going back to the Rose Bowl would not be a concern," said Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer's executive director, pointing out that the Home Depot Center is an equally attractive possibility.

"I think we have two really good options there," he said, "but clearly the legacy of 1994 and 1999 of the Rose Bowl being filled to the brim is a very positive statement."

The Rose Bowl is available on Sunday Oct. 12, one day later than the final was originally planned, because the UCLA football team is on the road that weekend.

Reaction from U.S. players and coaches to the news that they would again be the home team in an event they played host to and won in 1999 was overwhelmingly positive.

Midfielder Julie Foudy said she was "ecstatic." Defender Joy Fawcett, the co-captain with Foudy, called it "awesome," and U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said the belief had been that the U.S. would have to wait much longer before seeing the tournament played here again.

"I'm thrilled, I know all of our players are thrilled," Heinrichs said. "Certainly, most of us thought this wouldn't be possible until, at a minimum, 2007, and possibly as far away as 2011."

Flynn said the goal is to stage "a world-class event" and that a budget of $8 million to $14 million is "probably a fair number" to estimate the federation's investment in the tournament. The risk is being borne by the federation alone, without FIFA underwriting the event.

Ticket packages to the 16 doubleheaders that comprise the Cup will be priced "so that at the end of the day it can put us very close to a break-even situation," Flynn said. "We know it's a challenge, but that's our goal."

Even if U.S. Soccer loses financially, the decision to seek the Cup was not difficult to make.

"The opportunity to have our sport on the front page and for our team to have the chance to win yet another world championship at home is an opportunity that just doesn't come along very often," Flynn said. "So we like to look at our downside as an investment, if it's anything."

The 1999 Women's World Cup drew 660,159 fans, an average of 41,259 per playing date.

That tournament, however, was played in mid-summer. This time, the event will be going up against the baseball playoffs, the beginning of college football, the NFL and NHL seasons, and the MLS season.

That poses considerable difficulty in terms of stadium availability, television scheduling and other obstacles U.S. Soccer will try to overcome in the next two weeks.

"We've probably sent anywhere from about 12 to 14 scenarios to FIFA regarding scheduling, with different venues in play," Flynn said. "It's pretty fluid. But in the next seven to 10 days we think we can get that wrapped up."

In announcing its decision Monday, FIFA also said that China will retain the automatic place in the tournament as host.

The field consists of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.

Two more teams will emerge from the Asian qualifying tournament in Thailand next month, with the third-place finisher there paying Mexico in a home-and-home series for the final Women's World Cup berth.

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