There are still two years to go before Winnipeg welcomes the next FIFA Women's World Cup, but organizers are already giving the city a thumbs-up.
A delegation of FIFA executives and Canadian organizing committee members were in town on Wednesday to tour Investors Group Field, which will host seven of the tournament's 52 matches between June 6 and July 5, 2015. The stadium, still fresh off the sold-out Paul McCartney concert on Monday, apparently passed the inspection with flying colours.
"We have really been surprised by the quality of the stadium you have here," FIFA director of competitions Mustapha Fahmy said, speaking at a press conference outside city hall. "It's an extremely useful facility."
Even the press box, which came under some local fire due to its sightlines from the west end of the stadium, got the seal of approval from FIFA folks, who said it was large enough to accommodate all the Womens' World Cup scribes. "There's nothing really to be improved," Fahmy said. "You have all the facilities. We are not coming here to ask you to deliver more than what you are doing."
Well, that's good news, considering Winnipeg will be called on to host seven group-stage matches, with organizers slating three of the top five teams to play here. Some of the other host cities may only see two of the top-seeded teams, though Winnipeg will not host a knockout-round game.
Right now, Team Canada isn't pegged for a game in Winnipeg, but the city's growing demographic diversity could mean that whichever teams do make the trip will have a local fan base, of sorts.
"To a certain extent, we want to take advantage of the multicultural communities in the respective communities," national organizing committee CEO Peter Montopoli said. "Certainly, we want to take advantage of the ethnic communities in each one of the areas. But we feel very comfortable that every one of the other 23 (non-Canadian) countries will be supported... and hopefully the United States also."
Meanwhile, there's a lot yet to be done to prepare. Organizers plan to unveil ticket information in early 2014, with more announcements to roll out as the tournament draws nearer. In the meantime, they have a lot of work on their hands, especially tangling with Canada's sprawling geography. With host cities spread from Vancouver to Moncton, N.B., the 2015 Women's World Cup will holds events across five time zones.
"It's a very difficult proposition," Montopoli said. "The thing we look for, that's one of the hardest things to do, is we have six different cities, six different organizing committes. You're trying to provide consistency for the games, the product, across a whole country."
Still, Montopoli added, organizing staff consider that a good problem to have, as there's a world of opportunity to highlight Canada's geographic diversity. "It's the first time in our country a competition has been held coast-to-coast," Montopoli said. "It's a unique opportunity that's never happened before in our country. Everybody has a chance to be a part of this competition."