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U.S. Could Stage Cup in the Fall

Times Staff Writer

Four years after staging a wildly successful Women’s World Cup, female soccer’s premier event could be coming back to the United States -- this fall.

FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, announced Saturday it will move the tournament from China because of the SARS outbreak. Its executive committee said that the United States and Australia have emerged as leading candidates to take over as host. Brazil and Sweden also are possibilities.

“It will be transferred to another country in view of the current health threat in China, which is greatly affected by the SARS epidemic,” FIFA said in a statement.

Reuters reported late Saturday that an unidentified senior U.S. Soccer Federation official confirmed the U.S. will be the host and that an announcement would be made “in a couple of days.”

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome has killed more than 400 people worldwide -- the majority in China and neighboring Hong Kong -- and infected more than 6,000.

FIFA made the decision to move the Sept. 23-Oct. 11 event after consulting with the World Health Organization and other medical experts. It also said China would be awarded the 2007 tournament.

FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter said a decision on where to move the tournament will be made “as soon as possible” and no later than June 28, when the executive committee has a meeting in Paris on the weekend of the Confederations Cup.

The U.S. played host to the event in 1999 and 90,185 fans showed up at the Rose Bowl to watch the Americans defeat China in the final on Brandi Chastain’s clinching penalty kick. The tournament averaged 36,132 fans and was the first of three World Cups that turned a profit.

“Clearly we are always interested in hosting events of this caliber, but being interested and actually hosting an event are two very different things,” said Robert Contiguglia, president of U.S. soccer. “Given the incredibly short timeframe it would take to pull this off, there are a great number of hurdles to cross in making something like this happen.”

Contiguglia said he would meet soon with FIFA representatives for discussions.

FIFA said that it wants the dates for the tournament to remain as close to the original schedule as possible, which could cause logistical problems for the U.S. and Australia.

Most stadiums that were used in 1999 in the U.S. have busy schedules in the fall because of football. In Australia, the dates overlap with rugby’s World Cup, which begins Oct. 10.

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Staging the tournament in the U.S. certainly would be a boon for the struggling Women’s United Soccer Assn.

“We have not had formal discussions with [Major League Soccer] or [the U.S. Soccer Federation], but clearly the two pro leagues who have the infrastructure will play a role,” WUSA spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. “But we have expressed an interest in helping to put on an excellent tournament.”

World Cup Expansion

FIFA’s executive committee tentatively agreed to expand the 2006 World Cup in Germany from 32 teams to 36.

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Blatter said the expanded format would not be ratified unless scheduling problems can be overcome and the event’s “sporting spirit” can be preserved.

CONMEBOL, the South American federation that proposed the expansion, now has eight weeks -- ahead of the June 28 executive committee meeting in Paris -- in which to devise a plan that gains widespread support and is accepted by the German organizing committee.

On Friday, FIFA’s football and technical committees had expressed opposition to the expansion, but Blatter said he was unconcerned.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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