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When the Women's World Cup Swapped Host Countries Because of SARS

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Until 1991, women’s soccer didn’t have a prestigious worldwide tournament to call its own. Even though FIFA helped organize a World Cup-style event in China that year, they refused to officially brand it as a “World Cup” and instead allowed corporate sponsor Mars to assume naming rights. Thus, the “1st FIFA World Championship for Women's Football for the M&M's Cup” was born, and it was held in Guangdong, China over two weeks in November.

While FIFA may have half-assed their efforts in connection with the tournament, host nation China did not. Teams played in front of packed stadiums, and a capacity crowd of 65,000 watched the United States defeat Norway 2-1 in the final. The event was such a success, FIFA went back and retroactively attached its “World Cup” brand to the tournament.

When FIFA awarded China the rights to host the 2003 Women’s World Cup, the sport was on an all-time high following the wildly popular 1999 tournament held in the United States. FIFA’s decision represented a homecoming to the country that had helped raise the global profile of women’s soccer in the first place. It was all very exciting…until it wasn’t.

After years of planning, FIFA abruptly announced that it had decided to move the tournament to a new country because of the SARS outbreak in southern China. By May 3, 2003, the date when FIFA made their decision, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) had killed over 400 people and infected 6,000 more, mostly in China and Hong Kong. 

"It will be transferred to another country in view of the current health threat in China," FIFA said in a statement after consulting with the World Health Organization. This began the hurried process of moving a countrywide event in a matter of months. Brazil, Australia, and Sweden had expressed interest in hosting, but the United States got the nod, largely because they had so successfully held the previous event and proved they had the required infrastructure. The tournament was originally scheduled for September 20, and FIFA intended on keeping that start date.

The U.S. Soccer Federation saw an opportunity as well. The Women's United Soccer Association, a professional league established after the 1999 World Cup, was hemorrhaging cash and proving to be a massive flop. While a hastily organized World Cup wouldn’t have made any immediate financial return—it was a “very close to a break-even situation” according to a U.S. Soccer official at the time—there was hope that the tournament would inject new interest into the game and help save the WUSA from imminent demise.

Six stadiums were secured and the U.S. managed to host the event on schedule, but it was too late for the WUSA. On the Monday before the World Cup kicked off, the league announced it had to suspend operations due to mounting financial losses. It would never return.

The tournament itself was a relative success considering there were only 128 days to prepare. It wasn’t able to recapture anything close to the magic of 1999’s World Cup, however—there was only one sold-out match: the U.S.’s bout against a North Korea team that had scrambled to get visas in time.

China, for their part, were awarded the rights to host the Women’s World Cup in 2007. FIFA also paid them $1 million for their troubles. As FIFA General Secretary Urs Linsi said at the time, "China had hired staff and had expenses so we paid them."

With FIFA currently embroiled in a devastating corruption scandal, fans are wondering whether or not the 2018 and 2022 Men’s World Cups will still be held in Russia and Qatar, respectively. While assigning these huge tournaments to replacement countries could mean a massive logistical headache, the move would hardly be unprecedented.

Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture

From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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