So, it looks like the organizers tried to rig the Women’s World Cup.
In response to a series of questions from Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, offers some tepid -- to say the least -- logic for the way it structured this year’s tournament. As opposed to the men’s tournament, in which everything from the placement of each team to the venue they play at, is determined during a gala draw event held six months before the first ball is kicked, the six women’s seeds were placed into groups with their locations pre-determined.
When Wahl asked FIFA the reasons for this, it replied as follows: “Similar to previous draws for FIFA Women’s World Cups like Germany in 2011, teams are seeded ... and allocated into specific groups for ticketing and promotion reasons. Whilst the interest in the FIFA Women’s World Cup has grown significantly over the last years, the success and great interest from the public in the tournament in Germany in 2011 can’t be compared to the Brazil [men’s] World Cup. Filling the stadia is a FIFA and host association key objective. The allocation of teams to venues, the ticketing and promotion plan and the ticket price strategy are among the key factors for the overall success of the event.”
As Wahl said in response to this statement, “Fair enough,” but when he asked why FIFA couldn’t then devise a draw system for the round of 16 and beyond instead of pre-determining the landing spots for each qualifying team, the FIFA spokesperson didn’t provide an answer.
So, without saying it outright, FIFA basically confirmed that the organizing committee tried to rig the Women’s World Cup in Canada.
By placing each of the women’s seeds into groups that have a pre-determined path, FIFA is trying to make things happen on purpose -- things like world No. 1 Germany meeting No. 3 France in the quarterfinal (assuming results hold), instead of the semis. In professional tennis, for example, the top-ranked player would only ever meet the third or fourth-ranked player (again, assuming results held, of course) in the semis of a major tournament.
Why did FIFA do this? According to its response, the Women’s World Cup is more about maximizing revenue for FIFA, its sponsors and host Canada than it is about, well, fairness.
As Wahl points out, the tournament’s two biggest draws in terms of ticket sales, TV viewership and overall interest -- the USA and Canada -- have been separated in the draw. Not only that, but presuming that there are no surprises in any of the groups, neither would have to face another seeded team in the tournament until the semifinals.
In other words, there’s an awful lot here for the likes of Germany and France to complain about, but Sweden, which the USA faces Friday night in a key Group D battle, was arguably handed the most rotten fate of all: the world No. 5 team was unceremoniously stripped of its seeding by FIFA ahead of the women’s draw. Instead, South American champ Brazil was handed the final seed, but had FIFA conducted the women’s draw as it did for the men, Sweden would have been seeded.
FIFA’s answer to this was that it decided to hand out seeds to the host and each of the FIFA confederation champions -- with the exception of Africa and tiny Oceania. But, as Wahl says, “I didn’t hear that explanation from FIFA last December.”
Aside from landing in the Group of Death, which was (sort of) thanks to the draw, the USA -- presuming it wins Group D -- would have a much more straightforward path to the semifinal than its likely opponent, the winner of the expected Germany-France match-up. Canada, on the other hand, has the most straightforward path to the semifinal.
Why is that? As The New York Times points out, 95 percent of the 1 million tickets sold at this year’s Women’s World Cup were sold to people living in North America. Given this and the information unfurled by Wahl, it would appear as though the organizers really, really wanted to see a USA-Canada final.