A long way from Victoria

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Tonight in Juarez, Mexico -- instead of Victoria, B.C. - Canada's women's national soccer team begins the quest to make it into the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and the gang open the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament on the other side of the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, instead of in Canada where the FIFA area association wished to place the event.

And at this point we interrupt this column with a message from Amnesty International:

"More than 400 women have been abducted and murdered since 1993 in Ciudad, Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico, bordering El Paso, Texas, just over the Rio Grande.

"In a significant number of cases, the brutality with which the assailants abduct and murder the women goes further than the act of killing.

"Many of the women are held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, mostly as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or from being beaten.

"The families of the victims have refused to be quiet about the needless loss of their loved ones and continue, alongside activists from across the world, to seek justice and solutions to the issue of femicide."

RIGHT BACKDROP?

This is the background to begin an Olympic qualifying tournament where the top two teams proceed to Beijing with another background of human rights issues?

"I think a number of us find it surprising they'd choose here to bring a number of women's teams," said Canadian coach Even Pellerud in a conference call delayed by Mexican telephone line problems yesterday.

"I don't think we're scared or worried," he added.

That said, this could and should have been held in Canada.

The Canadian Soccer Association, despite financing and organizational guarantees being secured in B.C. by coach Pellerud and the people connected to the team, turned down the hosting request. Twice.

So it begins in Mexico, with the expected showdown for the Olympic spot against the Mexican team which won the same game four years ago over Canada to join the USA representing the region at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

Pellerud won't talk about the Victoria debacle any longer.

"We have chosen, a long time ago, not to spend any more time on that," he said.

But he did allow the conditions won't be the same as they might have been, and understand we're only talking about soccer here.

"The conditions here are different than in California where we held our pre-tournament camp.

"But Juarez is right across the river from El Paso and we trained on an excellent field in El Paso Monday. It went quite well."

He said the pitch in Juarez is not expected to present problems, but the atmosphere may be another thing.

"The environment around the stadium is harder to predict. We expect the crowd to be hostile."

Tonight the Canadians play Trinidad & Tobago to open the tournament. Sunday, Canada goes up against Costa Rica. The first-place team in the group meets the second-place team in the USA-Mexico-Jamaica group for one Olympic berth while the first place team in the USA group plays the second place team in the Canada group for the other.

The tournament is really about one game, expected to be Canada versus Mexico next Wednesday.

CASH STRAPPED

Mexico has played more international games than Canada, but despite the cash-strapped and leadership challenged circumstances of the CSA, Pelerud swears this team is much better prepared for the event than the one four years ago.

Thanks to team-specific funding from Vancouver Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot, the Canadian Olympic Committee and a sponsorship deal with Winners, there's no comparison, says the coach.

"It is not even close. We didn't have a lot of time together in 2004. We've had a great deal of help from external forces like Greg Kerfoot and the Canadian Olympic Association.

"We had a very good camp leading up to this. We have every player available and healthy. We all remember what happened four years ago. We have not forgotten that tournament.

"These players have a lot of experiences behind them and want to top it off and not allow certain factors outside of ourselves to affect our performance."

Factors they should not have to be dealing with this week and next thanks to the Canadian Soccer Association.


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