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International soccer game canceled, but Baton Rouge says upper-level matches still a goal

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Days after the Honduras national team backed out of a game at Olympia Stadium, citing poor field conditions, city tourism and park officials said Tuesday they want the international soccer community to give Baton Rouge another chance.

Honduras and Barbados had been scheduled to play in the 9,000-seat stadium off Perkins Road on Sunday evening but the game was canceled just hours before kickoff.

"The match ... is abandoned after Honduras raised concerns, stating that the venue and conditions are not suitable for the teams to play," according to an article on Barbados Today.

City tourism officials, who were not involved in setting up the game, have said previously that Baton Rouge should host more upper-level sporting events. The game's cancelation showed that there is work to be done.

"There are some enhancements we need to do," said Jason Suitt, director of sports development for Visit Baton Rouge, the city's convention and tourism bureau. "That is something I think we can talk through and find some funding for ... if that is the true case of them not wanting to come and play the game."

Upgrading Olympia's field would likely require funding from a number of sources, including tourism budgets, the park system and city-parish government, he said. Metro Council has already agreed to upgrades at the Raising Cane's River Center to accommodate hockey games.

"There's going to have to be some stuff from our end. There has to be some stuff probably from BREC. And community leaders that can also see the value of seeing the enhancements and then we can bring in these big events like that," Suitt said.

BREC's executive director, Corey Wilson, said the city-parish's park system was established to provide recreation for locals but that it is a worthy goal to provide parks that can attract distant audiences.

"It is going to take a significant investment of dollars to bring any of our facilities up to the level to where they are hosting international or national types of events," he said.

BREC has spent the past four months preparing its Burbank Soccer Park for the youth Southern Regionals, which open Friday. The six-day tournament features players aged 13-19 from 11 states.

The Honduras-Barbados request came in well after BREC had shifted its focus to the soccer park, Wilson said.

"Olympia is primarily used for football. There were no plans to use it this summer and then we got a request, saying "Hey, can you host an event?" Wilson said. 

Suitt said he hopes to bring a FIFA-sanctioned international match back to the city. There is a sizable soccer-oriented community in the region.

"I'm actually trying to set up a meeting to visit with those guys. Where did we miss? What is the reason? What do we need to improve? What do we need to fix?" he said.

Outside of LSU's Tiger Stadium, Olympia Stadium is likely the best facility to host a soccer game in Baton Rouge when a large crowd is expected. Southern's A.W. Mumford Stadium seats 28,500 but doesn't have natural grass that soccer teams prefer; Memorial Stadium seats 21,000 but cannot accommodate 22 players safely in such a small space.

"It is too narrow," Wilson said. "One of the things we're thinking about at Memorial is making it wide enough. That would require us to take out some of the lower levels. Those are plans if people are able to renew our taxes. Hopefully we'll have to get some partners."

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