- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The Women’s World Cup is coming back to the United States, and RFK Stadium is a likely early round venue.

FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, selected the United States, the 1999 host, over Sweden yesterday to stage the 16-team tournament. On May 3, the organization voted to move the event out of China because of the country’s outbreak of SARS.

U.S. Soccer is going to try and keep the tournament in the same time frame (Sept.23 through Oct.11), although an announcement on venues and schedules isn’t expected to be made for another week to 10 days. However, RFK is a logical choice to play host to early-round matches. The stadium’s only tenants are the Women’s United Soccer Association’s Freedom and Major League Soccer’s D.C. United.

“U.S. Soccer is very aware of RFK’s schedule and availability,” said Bobby Goldwater, the president of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK. “At that time of year, we are already set up for soccer.”

U.S. Soccer secretary general Dan Flynn said during a conference call yesterday the most likely scenario has the tournament starting on the East Coast and heading West as the tournament advances into the later rounds.

Under FIFA requirements, all stadiums considered must have grass fields and seat a minimum of 30,000. RFK meets those guidelines.

“We’re looking at a likely scenario of four to seven stadiums with half of those able to seat over 50,000,” Flynn said.

Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.; Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.; Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.; and Philadelphia’s new Lincoln Financial Field are also being considered, as well as soccer-specific stadiums — Columbus (Ohio) Crew Stadiumand the Home Depot Stadiumin Carson, Calif. The latter two would have to add temporary seating to get exceed 30,000.

The 1999 Women’s World Cup in the United States — held in June and July — is considered the most successful women’s sporting event ever. It drew a crowd of 90,125 to the Rose Bowl for the final between the United States and China. The most lasting image of that tournament was when defender Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey in celebration of her World Cup-clinching penalty kick for the United States. The following week she was on the cover of almost every national magazine.

“Our experience in 1999 was to convince people to come out because it’s a big event,” U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy said. “Even though we don’t have two years to promote it, we’re confident the American public will come out and support us.”

Flynn said U.S. Soccer, which has laid out $8million to $10million to play host to the event, has roughly 120 days to organize the tournament. Sponsorship, television revenue and ticket sales remain uncertain. The dates, which put the World Cup up against the NFL and college football regular seasons and the baseball playoffs, won’t help either.

“We think first and foremost it’s a world class event,” Flynn said. “At the end of the day, we hope to put us close to a break even situation. The downside is it’s an investment. Everything is different than 1999. There are no finalized terms that FIFA would underwrite us. It’s a partnership and no guarantee.”

Flynn said a likely scenario will have the World Cup final played on a Sunday, going head-to-head against the NFL.

“Sunday might be a day we play a final on,” Flynn said. “ESPN’s schedule poses some challenges. We have been received warmly by the network and they will try to accommodate as many games as possible.”

U.S. Soccer plans to use staffers from MLS and the WUSA for game-day operations and handle other issues like transportation and security for the World Cup. The original China schedule had all 32 first-round matches played as doubleheaders, and U.S. Soccer is expected to keep that schedule.

The World Cup also could help kickstart the WUSA, which has seen its average attendance drop near 6,000. After all, the 1999 World Cup helped launch the WUSA.

“The WUSA has provided a home for the top players in the world,” U.S. Soccer president Dr. Bob Contiguglia said. “It’s [FIFAs] commitment to the women’s game not the league in general.”

Note — District mayor Anthony Williams toured Home Depot Stadium last week to get an idea of what a soccer-specific stadium could potentially look like in the District. Negotiations are still ongoing between the city and the Anschutz Entertainment Group to build a soccer-specific stadium in the District.

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