By Paul Kennedy
It took three days, but Monday's doubleheader in Winnipeg finally put the
Women's World Cup front and center where it should be.
On the field, for good and for bad.
Woso supporters were feeling just a little aggrieved that the tournament had been
hijacked by external events.
First, there were the FIFA indictments handed down in Brooklyn Federal Court, the same day as U.S. Soccer's Media Day in New York. Bad luck.
the USA and Canada teams arrived at their destinations -- Winnipeg and Edmonton, respectively -- to the news that FIFA president had resigned. More FIFA questions.
Things reached a low at
the opening press conference in Vancouver. Jerome Valcke
, the FIFA general secretary caught up in the scandal, had bailed on the event. That did not prevent the
scandal from being topic No. 1.
The FIFA p.r. woman asked that questions concern the tournament in Canada, not the scandal on Zurich, so what happened? The first five questions were about
Quizzed, in French, on whether the Canadian Soccer Association paid bribes to win the right to host the Women's World Cup, its president, Victor Montagliani
, translated the question into English at the request of another reporter.
“His question,” Montagliani said, “was when we bid for the
World Cup was there any … comment dit-on? -- how do you say?"
The reporter answered his own question: "Bribes."
It was not Montagliani's shining moment. Asked about
his friend and colleague, suspended Concacaf president Jeffrey Webb
, sitting in a Zurich jail on charges of taking millions in bribes, Montagliani said that
until the indictments, it was hard for anyone -- him or the media -- to say anything bad about a man who had worked hard to rid soccer of racism and initiate reforms at the FIFA and Concacaf
And he then took a jab at the media: "You need to maybe look in the mirror a little bit and, maybe not put people on the pedestal so you can whack the hell out of them after."
Day after day of FIFA coverage started to subside by Sunday as the sellout in Edmonton and opening win (barely) by Canada had shined some light on the tournament. Then the USA was rocked by
an ESPN Outside the Lines report that presented
and not so flattering details of Hope Solo
's arrest. The story broke just before FIFA was scheduled to conduct the USA's pregame press conference.
The reaction of Coach Jill Ellis
: "It's standard for me not to read anything."
Where these stories fair game?
Solo is a huge star,
beyond soccer, and she had proclaimed her innocence, telling
Good Morning America
in February she was a victim of domestic violence. No one believes for a second the CSA bribed FIFA -- the only other bidder was Zimbabwe -- but it's a question that had to be asked.
the question that no one asked Montagliani was whether the CSA was afraid to rock the boat and press big, bad FIFA about the issue of artificial turf. No one doubts that Canada's big football stadiums
might need turf in the late fall when the CFL wraps up, but is it such a wise idea to play on artificial turf in June when temperatures on the field hit 130 degrees Sunday in Ottawa and 120 degrees
Saturday in Edmonton?
It's just a tad ironic that FIFA has been blasted for ignoring safety concerns about the heat in Qatar when the heat could be a determining issue
in Canada. (The team most used to playing in the extreme heat will be the USA. Temperatures on the field for last year's FC Kansas City-Portland NWSL playoff game hit almost 160 degrees.)
The lawsuit players filed against FIFA and the CSA before an Ontario tribunal had no chance because it was filed too late. If the players were unhappy with what the organizers were proposing, they
should have sued a couple of years ago. But the bigger point is that FIFA and the CSA are to blame for not vetting their plans to players in 2012 or 2013.
The toll the FIFA scandals have
taken on soccer extend far beyond the millions of dollars in misappropriated money. The image that has been spoiled. The mistrust that has been created. (FIFA can pay off the Football Association of
Ireland $7 million to keep it quiet about a disputed handball, but it can't pay to install six grass fields. Huh?)
It isn't easy to nail Blatter or his No. 2 Jerome Valcke on the FIFA scandals. But there's one thing for
which they are entirely to blame.
They've perpetuated a culture of crisis management, booting the ball out of bounds when they needed to get it right on the Women's World Cup.