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U20 WC games in Victoria moved to R.A.P.

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FIFA likes RAP better. Not the music, the stadium.

In a surprise move, the venue for the Victoria group in the 2007 Under-20 soccer World Cup has been shifted from Centennial Stadium at UVic to Royal Athletic Park, which will be expanded to seat 14,500 with temporary bleachers.

"It's all about FIFA, it's not about Victoria . . . and what FIFA wants, FIFA gets," said Victoria mayor Alan Lowe, referring to the powerful international governing body of soccer, which requested the venue change.

Victoria is one of six cities hosting groups in the most important soccer event Canada has ever staged. Group F will be in Victoria with Group A in Edmonton, B in Burnaby, C in Toronto, D in Montreal and E in Ottawa.

Organizers say FIFA preferred RAP for a number of reasons to stage Group F, the primary of which are its intimacy and proximity to downtown.

"FIFA is in charge and wanted to change locations," said Lowe.

"They wanted a facility that was more intimate and they didn't want a track separating the field from the stands [like at Centennial Stadium]. RAP is more spectator friendly."

The first row of spectator seating around RAP will be three to four metres from the playing field. A new configuration will also see the pitch itself pushed to the west so the current baseball/softball grandstand at Caledonia and Vancouver streets will become the corner soccer stand.

About 5,000 temporary seats will be added to the north side opposite the current main grandstand and 3,000 temporary seats behind the east-end goal. The remaining 3,500 temporary seats will be interspersed around the existing bleacher areas, which can currently accommodate about 3,000 spectators. Between 5,000 to 6,000 temporary seats, which can be broken into smaller modules, will remain as a legacy to be used for future events in the region.

"We can create an English-style stadium atmosphere at RAP with good proximity to the downtown core," noted Harold McNeill, chairman of the Victoria organizing committee. "Those issues were important to FIFA."

UVic took the loss in stride.

"Naturally, we're disappointed Centennial Stadium won't be the host but it was a business decision by FIFA and we understand that," said Clint Hamilton, UVic director of athletics and facilities.

"We'll play whatever support role we can to make it a success."

Meanwhile, tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. through www.fifa.com. Tournament passes are $145, $166 and $187 and include seven games -- six games of Group F round-robin doubleheaders July 1, 4 and 7 and a Round of 16 playoff game July 11 between the Group F winner and second-place finisher in Group E.

Only 4,000 tournament passes remain available to the general public with 10,500 already committed to Island soccer and sponsor groups. The Island youth and senior soccer community is selling tournament passes at reduced rates for its member players. For information, contact your local association or check the Victoria organizing committee website at www.victoriasoc.com.

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