SPORTS

Women's World Cup organizers focus on the positives of global soccer show

09/30/2014 01:14 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Ticket sales have started well and organizers of the 2015 Women's World Cup of soccer have plenty of good stories to tell.

But thanks to the ongoing controversy of playing the Canadian tournament on artificial turf, not many of those storylines have got through yet.

Organizers hope to sell 1.5 million tickets to the 24-team, 52-match tournament scheduled for next summer. The 16-team, 32-game event in 2011 in Germany drew a total of 845,711 fans.

Peter Montopoli, CSA general secretary and CEO of the World Cup National Organizing Committee, says preparation goes ahead despite the ongoing focus on the playing surface.

"We're continuing to do our business in the right way in terms of staging what we said would be an exceptional competition," Montopoli said from Ottawa on Tuesday. "We hope to set records. This is like a pinnacle moment in our country for sport and team sport and women's team sport."

More than 150,000 tickets were sold in the first 48 hours of going on sale, with people in all six host cities buying tickets to the final in Vancouver.

For Montopoli, it is proof that the tournament is already bringing the country together. For FIFA, Canada is a natural host given that it ranks third — behind the U.S. and Germany — in women's soccer participation.

"That speaks for itself," said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's deputy director of the competitions division and head of women's competitions.

She also points to the Canadian Soccer Association's spending on the women's side of the sport, which currently is more than the men get.

"Again that's something that's unique in the world," Haenni said.

The FIFA official also noted Canada's wildly popular bronze medal run at the London Olympics, stars like Christine Sinclair and positive hires by the CSA.

"I really (believe) this is a (best) case example for so many countries in the world," she said.

Haenni kicked off the latest FIFA inspection tour Tuesday, calling it a "continuation" of the preparation process.

"We're here officially for a site inspection for the last time," said Haenni. "I think time-wise it's a good period before the start and the kickoff of the tournament."

The FIFA official estimated that 70-80 per cent of requirements are in place, with the push to get to 100 so organizers only have to worry about fine-tuning stadiums rather than worry about logistical elements.

The tournament runs June 6 to July 7 in Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Haenni said this summer's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, a test run for next year's World Cup, had gone well.

"I think it was a very nice event. You had some great football. From a quality point of view, it was very good football performed by these young players."

"From an organization point of view, we knew and we were sure that the Canadian Soccer Association is more than capable of hosting (a) big FIFA event, as they've done in the past," she added. "This event was another one where we could see that almost everything was done in a perfect way and the tournament went very well. We had no big issues.

"We had small issues but I don't think they're really worthwhile mentioning — because it's kind of normal in an event this size there's one or two issues which may come across."

The U-20 event gave Canadian organizers a chance to test out venues in Moncton, Montreal and Edmonton. The other venue city, Toronto, is not part of the World Cup because of the Pan American Games.

The under-20 tournament drew 288,000, below the organizers' goal of 320,000.

Montopoli pointed proudly to the fact that 67 different nationalities were represented in the some 900 volunteers that worked the U-20 event this summer.

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