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FIFA Women's World Cup trophy arrives in Vancouver amid controversy

05/28/2015 10:42 EDT | Updated 05/28/2016 05:59 EDT
Young female soccer players crowded around the FIFA Women's World Cup trophy as the coveted golden statue was unveiled at a small ceremony at a downtown Vancouver community centre Thursday.

In the past, only winners were able to get this close to the trophy, but FIFA decided to make an exception for Vancouver, the city that will host the final match.

Amid the corruption scandal gripping FIFA and the arrests of seven organization executives in Zurich on racketeering charges, organizers stayed clear of the controversy, deflecting questions, preferring to focus instead on the tournament's positive aspects.

"Well you know, FIFA has issued a certain number of statements already," said FIFA marketing manager Sarah Gandoin when questioned. "I'm sure you heard about that. So I have no further comment to do. I'm here to speak about the tournament and the trophy and the positivity side of it."

Sponsors on board

Sponsors are already on record demanding changes to the organization. Some have even threatened to jump ship, but there was no sign of it at Thursday's event.

Shannon Denny with Coca-Cola, a longtime World Cup sponsor, said Coke is confident FIFA is dealing with the issue in the right way.

"We've had discussions with FIFA  ...  ongoing discussions with them about these issues, and we're confident they're doing what they need to do to make any changes they have to make, and working with the proper authorities to do so." 

There are 120,000 youth registered in soccer in B.C. and the women's event is getting a lot of local attention. The city of Vancouver has shelled out $1.2 million for a Vancouver fan zone.

Twenty-four teams from around the world will play in venues across the country, competing for the trophy. It's an event fans have been looking forward to, but now runs the risk of being tarnished in the eyes of some.

FIFA's president Sepp Blatter is adamant he will run for president of the organization again, but Canada says it won't vote for him — casting its vote instead for Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the only other candidate.

Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie says the scandal is reflection on the athletes and the event.

"As a soccer fan, I am very disappointed, of course, with what had been alleged to be occurring, and I know that they are going to put the resources necessary to clean this up" he said. "This should be no reflection on the great event that we're going to be hosting here in Vancouver and certainly no reflection on these great athletes."

Louie says fans should realize that FIFA's internal operations are separate from the event itself and its "noble goals." 

"And that's why I say we should separate that piece from what we're trying to accomplish and really have the best event that we can have in Vancouver."

The only sign of something amiss at the Vancouver trophy unveiling was the absence of Peter Montopoli. The organizing committee's executive director had been scheduled to attend. No reason was given for his absence.

The soccer tournament kicks off in Edmonton in nine days. The final will be played at B.C. Place at 4 p.m. PT, July 5.

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