- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, will know by the end of next week whether it will keep the Women's World Cup in China or move the event to another country because of the health risk posed by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that is sweeping China.
"Our sports medical committee will issue a report on April30, and the executive committee meets May3 to determine which direction we are going to go in," FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said yesterday from his Zurich office. "It's a wait and see. FIFA hasn't made any moves on relocating the event."
The fourth Women's World Cup is scheduled to be held in five cities in central and eastern China from Sept.23 to Oct.11. Because of the SARS outbreak, the Asia Zone qualifying for the World Cup scheduled from April17-30 was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled. Also, the World Cup draw, which was to be held in Wuhan, China, on May24, has been postponed.
An Australian soccer official already has stated his country's desire to play host to the World Cup if it has to be moved because of SARS.
"If the opportunity arose and FIFA approached us to stage the tournament, we would seriously consider it," Soccer Australia's acting chief executive Stefan Kamasz told Australian Associated Press. "It would be short notice if the tournament was still set down for September and we'd be behind the eight-ball, but I'm sure there are sufficient people with the ability to fast-track plans."
U.S. Soccer's stance on the issue is in line with FIFA's position.
"Because the tournament is five months away, we can't speculate on how SARS is going to affect the Women's World Cup," said Jim Moorhouse, U.S. Soccer's director of communications. "Safety and security is paramount to anything we do. There is a medical side. Diseases like this often spike, and we may be seeing that now."
As of Monday, the World Health Organization said SARS had infected 3,909 people worldwide and the death toll stood at 217. The SARS outbreak began in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in November and spread throughout the rest of the country.
"We're all reading about it, and what we're learning is that it's maybe similar to West Nile virus in terms of the death rate and that it's new and we're still learning what it would take to get a vaccine, and at the same time West Nile is deadly in less than 5 percent of the cases," U.S. women's national team coach April Heinrichs said. "That's the same we know right now about SARS."
The U.S. women's national team is in town this week to prepare for Saturday's exhibition against African champion Nigeria at RFK Stadium. The U.S. women won the first World Cup in China in 1991 and as hosts in 1999. The Americans are favored to win their third World Cup this year.
U.S. Soccer is planning to put in a bid to play host to the 2007 Women's World Cup. It's unlikely that this year's World Cup would be played in the U.S. if FIFA moves the tournament out of China. Stadium availability during football season would be a huge obstacle for U.S. Soccer to overcome on short notice.
According to the U.S. players, the Chinese know how to play host to this event.
"It's great they put on an excellent tournament," midfielder Julie Foudy said. "The '91 World Cup was phenomenal. They pull out everything. The whole country gets involved. Their team is very popular over there. They support it, they come out, you get large crowds, very good venues they're hosting the Summer Olympics in 2008 we're hoping it stays there and everything gets taken care of because they will do a great job."

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