FIFA scandal steals focus as Women’s World Cup set to kick off
Vancouver: The biggest Women’s World Cup in history kicks off on Saturday amid a backdrop of damaging FIFA corruption allegations that are threatening to overshadow the four-week tournament in Canada.
The growing popularity of the sport has seen its expansion to 24 teams from 16, and nearly one million tickets have been sold for games in host cities — Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.
But Canada’s soccer chief Victor Montagliani was faced with a barrage of questions about the FIFA controversy rather than the tournament during the opening press conference in Vancouver on the eve of the event.
Montagliani said he hopes the tournament, which begins with Canada playing China in Vancouver, can give a lift to the sport during the darkest period in its history.
“I actually think it’s a positive thing that the first tournament after whatever happened last week is the Women’s World Cup,” said Montagliani of the FIFA controversy and shock resignation of president Sepp Blatter.
Montagliani was also quizzed about a 2014 interview in which he described North American, Central American and Caribbean confederation (CONCACAF) president Jeffrey Webb as an inspiration.
Canada are also a CONCACAF member.
Webb, a FIFA vice-president, was among seven people arrested in raids on a Zurich hotel and subsequently suspended from all football-related activity as FIFA grapples with a crisis that has rocked the sport’s governing body.
Montagliani said he knew Webb through his anti-racism campaign and FIFA work.
“It would be very hard to say you wouldn’t respect somebody of that nature,” said Montagliani.
“Having said that, if the allegations (from) last week are true, then obviously that would change a lot of people’s opinion. I hope it’s not because obviously we know there’s no room in the game for those kinds of things.”