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After weeks of scandal and shame, world soccer finally has something to cheer about, thanks to the sport’s top women players.
With disgraced FIFA boss Sepp Blatter a no-show, the opening game of FIFA’s Women’s World Cup 2015 between Canada and China took place in Edmonton, Alberta, before an estimated worldwide TV audience of 500 million. Just over 53,000 fans filled Commonwealth Stadium to see the tournament get underway after an opening ceremony that featured Sarah McLachlan singing her hit song In Your Shoes, which she wrote to honor Nobel Prize-winning Pakastani activist Malala Yousafzai. Grammy-nominated pop duo Tegan and Sara performed their single “I’m Not Your Hero” as part of a universal story about a young girl aspiring to be a star soccer player.
The competition’s official slogan, “To a Greater Goal,” and actual women’s tournament play over the next month could distract from the growing scandal engulfing FIFA, world soccer’s ruling body, after U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch sparked a series of indictments and resignations in recent weeks.
Ripples from the FIFA scandal were seen ahead of Saturday’s opener, where Canada edged China, 1-0. A host of women players, led by U.S. forward Abby Wambach, charged gender discrimination over the use of artificial turf in all tournament stadiums in Canada, rather than grass, as is standard for the rival men’s World Cup event.
FIFA organizers also had to assure the world media they hadn’t offered bribes to put on the Women’s World Cup 2015 tournament. During the event’s opening press conference in Vancouver, FIFA communications head Ségolène Valentin asked assembled world media members not to ask about the rapidly unfolding bribery scandal.
The first six questions were about nothing else, with a French-speaking reporter asking about Canada handing out bribes. “This World Cup?” Canadian soccer association president Victor Montagliani blurted out in French. “No. Absolutely not.” The English-speaking press then called out for a translation.
“His question was, when we bid for the World Cup, was there any … ‘comment dit-on?’ – how do you say?” Montagliani asked. “Bribes,” a lone journalist piped up.
“Yeah, thank you,” Montagliani continued. “When we bid for this World Cup, did the Canadian Soccer Association engage in any improprieties to obtain it, and I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ ” It helped that only Canada bid to host the Women’s World Cup tournament after Zimbabwe withdrew from the race.
There’s also continuing speculation over whether soon-to-be former FIFA head Blatter will attend the final game in Vancouver on July 5. Team U.S.A. will play its first game at the Women’s World Cup 2015 on Monday as part of a match against Australia in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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