You remember Brandi Chastain, euphoric in the Southern California sun. Sliding to her knees on the grass, biceps flexed, screaming in joy right along with the 90,000 people surrounding her in the Rose Bowl. The sports bra. The Sports Illustrated cover. The moment that will forever serve as a touchstone for women’s sports.
A moment that would not have happened if not for the groundwork laid three years earlier at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.
FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, awarded the 1999 Women’s World Cup to the United States on May 31, 1996. There were no other bidders for the event, the third of its kind. The previous edition had been held in 1995 in Sweden, with an average attendance of 4,316 fans at each match.
That number set the baseline for FIFA’s thinking on how the ‘99 tournament should be staged. FIFA officials told U.S. Soccer they wanted the event held entirely in the Eastern time zone, to cut down on travel costs, and the stadiums to be small — able to accommodate 5,000-10,000 fans. They did acquiesce to U.S. officials’ request to hold the final at Washington’s RFK Stadium, but that old 55,000-seat warhorse was the exception.
The other nine venues submitted as possible hosts in the official bid presented to FIFA in February 1996 included college football stadiums at Rutgers and the University of Richmond, Veterans Stadium in New Britain, Connecticut, and a series of smaller college venues: the University of Buffalo, Davidson College, the University of Delaware, Lehigh University, UNC-Greensboro, and Tufts University.
Considering what we know now about how the tournament ultimately played out, it’s mind-boggling to consider what might have been. Davidson. Lehigh. Tufts.