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NWSL announce return to action with Utah tournament

2020 Challenge Cup could be first American pro sport in action.

2020 NWSL Draft Photo by Jose Argueta/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The National Women’s Soccer League announced Wednesday their plan to begin play in 2020, with a centralized tournament taking place in Utah, called the 2020 Challenge Cup, which is scheduled to run June 27-July 26.

All nine teams currently playing in the league will participate, with the Utah Royals FC being the host of the tournament, games taking place on the club’s various fields. Teams will be housed in either a hotel or nearby apartment building, each team will play four games in the preliminary round once games get underway, and the top eight teams will advance to a knockout tournament to conclude the competition.

During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday after the announcement, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird would not commit to the Challenge Cup being the only competition for the league in 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, or if the competition would springboard to a new phase of games at teams’ respective home venues afterwards.

Utah team owner Dell Loy Hansen, who is doing much of the underwriting of the competition, said during the conference call the teams and league would “open the checkbook” for players and staff at the tournament to request food and recreation to incentivize everyone to stay onsite. He also said that the hope was that sponsors would help pay for the entire enterprise, something bolstered by announcements that Proctor & Gamble, Secret, and Verizon all signed on to sponsor the league overall or the tournament in particular.

Among the sticking points that have tripped up other leagues, reportedly, as they aim to get back to work when it is safe, the NWSL have committed to paying players in full this year and providing full health insurance benefits for the year, and players have the choice to opt out of participating if they are not comfortable with the plan, and they will still be paid. Considering no players are paid anywhere near $1 million, don’t expect much sniping at players who do choose to sit out for health or personal reasons.

In addition, the league is giving special provisions for players with children. A handful of NWSL players around the league have kids, and Baird said players, their children and an additional caregiver will be welcome to live in Utah for the duration of the competition.

Players effectively have until June 21 to decide to participate, when rosters will be locked, although most will have to decide very quickly as training programs ramp up in preparation. Spectators will not be allowed to attend games, with all 25 matches during the competition available in the United States on CBS (opening game and final) and CBS All Access (the rest of the games) with CBS Sports Network showing replays of games.

You can read the full details of safety and testing protocols around the NWSL 2020 Challenge Cup on the NWSL website.

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