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That time UGA’s stadium hosted international soccer, causing a local uproar

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The host of the 1996 Olympic final didn’t bid to be a host for the World Cup. There are a couple reasons why.

Southern v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Take a look at this 1996 photo of Georgia’s Sanford stadium during that year’s Summer Olympics. It’s an awesome crowd taking in an international match with over 80,000 on hand.

Besides the soccer markings and teal signage all over the place, there’s something else different about this look though.

Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Here’s a normal view of a fall Saturday, and allow me to direct your attention to the edges of the field.

The Dawgs play American football “between the hedges,” and they’re pretty important to the aura of the program.

It’s so important that the decision to remove them was controversial back in 1996.

The hedges had been in place since 1929, and a staple of the stadium’s aesthetic. But a soccer field’s dimensions are wider than a football field’s. That was a bit of an issue.

But then-athletic director Vince Dooley got lucky because the hedges were infested.

Atlanta was selected to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Sanford Stadium was chosen as the venue for the soccer matches. Since a regulation soccer field measures approximately 115 yards by 74 yards, the hedges would have to be removed. Dooley, Georgia’s athletic director at the time, knew Dawgs fans were less than enthralled with the idea.

”I knew that was going to be a PR problem,” he says.

It was discovered that the hedges were diseased -- they were suffering from an infestation of hematodes, or microscopic worms -- necessitating their timely removal.

Three years before the ‘96 games, UGA began growing the hedges in two secret locations, and didn’t even tell athletic department employees for fear of sabotage. When Georgia had to do some construction on the stadium in the mid-2000s, they hid the hedges again in three separate locations for months.

Although Athens was included in a list of potential sites U.S. Soccer reached out to, Georgia’s president didn’t even apply to be a host for the ‘26 tournament. It makes sense, as Atlanta is a favorite to host games due to its new Mercedes Benz Stadium and vibrant soccer culture .FIFA’s bid requirements are also pretty wild, and Athens isn’t exactly a metropolis (although it’s a lovely college town).

Given the amount of work to accommodate soccer the first go around, it’s probably best to just drive to ATL to enjoy the festivities and keep the hedges where they are.