VANCOUVER – FIFA officials gave the thumbs up to 2015 Women’s World Cup soccer tournament venues Saturday.
Mustapha Fahmy, FIFA’s competitions director, said no major changes are needed at facilities in advance of the 24-team event. But the key question of turf quality will not be addressed until a year before the competition scheduled to take place in six Canadian cities.
“You have all of the facilities here in Canada,” said Fahmy as FIFA and national organizing committee members wrapped up an inspection tour of four host cities on Saturday.
“We are not asking for many big changes in amenities.”
FIFA officials and Canadian organizers toured Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver — the site of the championship game — during the week. This trip followed up on visits to Montreal and Moncton, the two other host cities, in April.
Fahmy said some minor adjustments to such areas as hospitality could still be needed, but most requirements have been met. Ottawa’s stadium is under construction, but Fahmy expressed confidence that it will be completed as scheduled in the summer of 2014.
“We have seen the drawings, and it’s going to be a nice product once finished,” he said.
In addition to venues, FIFA officials and Canadian organizers also examined such factors as practice facilities, hotels, security and ticketing. Canadian organizers hope to sell 1.6 million tickets, but the exact number of tickets available has not been determined yet.
It remains to be seen whether the artificial turf at stadiums will be up to FIFA’s standards. Field inspections will not be completed until 12 months before the event begins.
Fahmy said he is confident that all fields will meet FIFA’s standards.
Peter Montopoli, CEO of the national organizing committee and also general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, said domestic organizers will be responsible for the expense of any replacement field.
“There are many different layers” to the question of field-approval protocol, but he expressed confidence in the quality of existing pitches.
“I don’t roll the ball,” he said, referring to one part of the testing procedure. “I don’t do the tests. … From what we can tell, we feel very comfortable where we are right now.”
All pitches must meet FIFA’s Star II standard. Artificial turf quality is an ongoing issue for players, who are concerned that it poses a higher risk of injury than grass.
U.S. star striker Abby Wambach has criticized FIFA’s decision to hold the event on artificial turf rather than grass, which is used for international men’s events.
Montopoli said there are no plans to revert to grass if a stadium’s artificial turf does not meet FIFA standards. The group completed its inspection of B.C. Place Stadium, site of the championship game, on Friday and gave it a good review.
“Certainly, the venue is more than capable of hosting a championship match for the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” said Montopoli.
Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s deputy director of women’s football competitions, said B.C. Place is a great place to host the championship game because of Vancouver’s experience holding major international events. The stadium, which serves as home to the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer, is already configured for the sport and hosted the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.
But Canadian organizers are still seeking to identify 24 practice facilities. If all goes according to plan, said Montopoli, each team would have its own training site, with four facilities in each of the six host cities.
Practice fields would also consist of artificial turf that must meet FIFA standards. Montopoli said many of the fields that the group examined this week are acceptable, but more need to be identified.
“We still have a ways to go (on confirming training facilities) across the country,” he said.
Friendlies will be played in host venues in advance of the tournament, he added, but no exhibition matches will be played in other Canadian cities.
The 2015 Women’s World Cup will mark the first time 24 teams have competed for the global crown.
“That’s a massive step forward for the world of women’s football,” said Haenni.
She said the event, which will be held for the seventh time, must live up to FIFA’s standards and history because it’s the “most important” international competition for women, will affect people involved in all levels of the sport — and “the world will be watching.”
Note: The group of FIFA officials and national organizers also visited Toronto, site of the 2014 Women’s Under-20 World Cup, on this trip. … Montopoli said Canadian organizers are beginning efforts to get First Nations involved in the tournament. … FIFA will oversee sponsorships, said Montopoli, but national organizers are confident the event will receive strong support from Canadian corporations.