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Pro soccer might come to city, says mayor

Victoria mayor says renovations to Royal Athletic Park will be permanent

Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2007

The FIFA 2007 Under-20 World Cup trophy, to be presented to the winning team July 22 at the new BMO national soccer stadium in Toronto, was unveiled yesterday in the rather unlikely setting of the Victoria Curling Club.

The press conference, which opened the Victoria site committee's volunteer centre, was full of surprises with Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe saying the newly-laid turf will remain in Royal Athletic Park following the World Cup and that Victoria may get a pro soccer team to play on it.

The B.C. capital -- one of six Canadian host cities for the U-20 World Cup -- has been raked in the past for its inability to score major legacy facilities from big international sporting events it has hosted, including the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Seven-year-old Cassie Rimek, who'll be a captain's escort, admires the trophy the teams will be vying for at the under-20 World Cup. The trophy was unveiled at the official opening of the volunteers centre yesterday at the Victoria Curling Club.

Darren Stone, Times Colonist

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"The new [RAP] field will stay and we will make great use of it," vowed Lowe.

"There are some parties interested in bringing a pro soccer team to Victoria and hopefully that will be our legacy. It could come to fruition. These people have the backers and I believe they will make it happen."

Lowe would not elaborate, although it has been speculated Victoria could take the Vancouver Whitecaps' spot in the pro United Soccer League if Vancouver obtained a franchise in the higher level MLS.

The re-configured field for the U-20 World Cup covers the old RAP softball diamond. Lowe said the park's other diamond, at the northeast corner of the park, would become the main diamond.

Colin Linford, president of the Canadian Soccer Association, had earlier in the evening urged Victoria soccer supporters to demand a legacy remain from hosting the U-20 World Cup.

"Tell the mayor you want the field to stay . . . there will be more [soccer] events coming in the future [to Canada] and there will be a need for places to play," said Linford, noting Canada plans to bid for the 2011 women's World Cup.

"They've done a great job on the new [RAP] field. It's really impressive. Traditionally, Victoria and B.C. have been great supporters of soccer in Canada."

Meanwhile, 14 children from more than 500 Island entrants were selected by draw to escort the team captains onto the pitch during the seven World Cup games to be played in Victoria July 1-11.

Because of field alterations made yesterday, temporary seating will bring capacity at RAP to 11,400 for the World Cup and not 12,000 as announced earlier. Linford said 825,000 tickets have been sold countrywide to date and "the dream is one million."

Nigeria, Japan, Scotland and Costa Rica will comprise Group F at RAP, with CBC the host broadcaster and BBC Scotland and Fuji-TV to also have production trucks/crews at RAP to broadcast the games to their homelands.

Scotland, which will arrive in Victoria on June 25, named its 21-member team yesterday and eight of those youthful players already have experience in the Bank of Scotland Premier League.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

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