Washington gets World Cup games Eight other cities will be hosts in '94

March 24, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- At least four games will be played at RFK Stadium in 1994, when the World Cup arrives in the United States for the first time in its 62-year history.

In the District Building, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, John Koskinen, chairman of the regional venue committee, and others watched and then cheered, when Alan Rothenberg, World Cup USA 1994 chairman, opened the first envelope and named Washington as one of the nine sites that will be host to the 52-game soccer tournament.

The selections were made by FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, soccer's governing body. Each site will have at least four games.

"This, in itself, is a historic victory for us," said Kelly. "It's a great opportunity for us to showcase our city and our region. There has been so much enthusiasm expressed by our young people for this sport of the future. We're delighted a world-class city can host such a world-class event. Nothing could be better."

Baltimore's part of the bid includes being host to the FIFA Congress if Washington is chosen for the opening game.

Specific World Cup games are to be awarded July 1.

But if Washington isn't chosen for the first game, Maryland still will be involved. The University of Maryland has been suggested as a training and housing site for competing teams, and plans for The Festival of Washington, to begin in January 1994, call for showcase events from Baltimore to Richmond, Va., celebrating the sport.

Kelly estimated the direct economic impact on the region to be from $16 million to $85 million. As many as 1.5 million soccer fans are expected to visit the United States between June 17 and July 17, 1994.

"It was our first goal to get in," said Koskinen. "Now, we have to do everything we can to show FIFA that we are a major player that deserves to play a major role. Our bid asks for big games up to and including the runner-up game. And, now that we've seen the other eight, it is going to be very important that we work closely within the region to make sure we get the best games possible. The competition is tough."

The Washington bid was seen as a strong one, because of its regional approach, which ties in Maryland and Virginia with the District.

That regionalism, the amount of soccer played in the area and the chance to hold games in the nation's capital overrode concerns about the size of RFK Stadium, the smallest of the nine venues, Rothenberg said.

"We'd like more seats, so we hope the new stadium negotiations are going well, but we've accepted RFK for what it is," Rothenberg said.

Kelly said negotiations with Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke on a new stadium are "cautiously on track," but declined to elaborate.

Koskinen said that though a new stadium still could be completed by 1994, the regional bid was predicated on RFK.

Among the sites chosen yesterday was the Pontiac Silverdome, which will be the World Cup's first indoor stadium.

Joe Robbie Stadium, near Miami, built specifically with soccer in mind, is out because of conflicts with major-league baseball, which will be in its second season there. Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., meanwhile, is in, despite having a field narrower than the prescribed 75-yard width.

"When we decided to come to the United States, we said it was mandatory we be in New York," said Sepp Blatter, chief executive officer and general secretary of FIFA. "We, in our committees, will work out these problems."

Originally, FIFA said it wanted 12 cities to hold the tournament, but Blatter said FIFA decided to go with nine to assure better competition and less travel.

"In Mexico and Italy, we had 12 venues with three games in each," he said. "The way the games broke down, it was like we had very good stadiums, where very good teams played, and less good stadiums where lesser teams played. With nine, we will be able to group the teams so that the top seeds will be seen in more than one venue. And in a country so big as the United States, this grouping will mean each team will only have to travel once."

The nine venues will be aligned in groups of three, with each threesome playing host to two groups of teams. Washington is expected to line up with New York and Orlando, Fla., in the East. San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas are in the West, and Boston, Detroit and Chicago constitute the other group.

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