Foudy Talks Turf -- Because FIFA Won't
I have non-breaking news for you: FIFA does not care what you think.
Over the years, FIFA has never seemed influenced by what is written or said in papers, articles, tweets, blogs, and on television about how it operates. And over the years, women's soccer has not appeared to sit high on FIFA's priority list.
Yet FIFA president Sepp Blatter has repeatedly said, "the future of football is feminine."
With that in mind, I hope I don't come off as a drunk optimist spitting into the wind when I say maybe, maybe this time, FIFA will come to its senses and do the right thing. That FIFA will make sure that the 2015 Women's World Cup is played on grass, just the way it would be if Canada were hosting a men's World Cup.
Yes, I am talking turf -- because FIFA won't. And yes, I am bothered. Let's rewind.
Canada was the only country to bid on the 2015 Women's World Cup, and the bid included turf playing surfaces.
In late July, more than 40 international players joined in a letter of protest to FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association asking for grass playing surfaces. The players claim that forcing them to compete on turf and not grass -- which every men's World Cup has been played on since 1930 -- amounts to gender discrimination, which violates Canadian law. And on Friday, the group of international players -- many of the best players in the world, including Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Germany's Nadine Angerer and Spain's Vero Boquete -- said it is preparing to sue FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association in an Ontario court next week after both organizations missed a deadline to reconsider staging next summer's games on turf.
Beyond acknowledging it received the letter earlier this summer, FIFA has had no comment.
Eventually FIFA will have to address this, and unfortunately it took litigation or the threat of litigation to move the needle. When it decides to talk, what arguments could FIFA make? Let's look at why FIFA might not want to play the 2015 Women's World Cup on grass, and whether those arguments are valid.
1. FIFA could say it has no other choice. Yes, Canada was the only bidder for 2015 Women's World Cup, and yes, the bid was made with turf playing surfaces, but does that prevent FIFA from saying to the Canadian Soccer Association, "Thank you. Now lay down some sod and we will pay for it"? (More on that below ...)
2. FIFA could argue that sod laid over turf will not stand up through an entire World Cup with multiple games played over weeks of competition. Very true. We have seen plenty of bad sod fields laid straight over the turf. They are not fun to play on, nor are they safe. But we also have examples out there that show high-quality sod transformations that can be done as late as two weeks before the competition begins. Sarah Gehrke at the Soccer Desk artfully explains one such case study here, showing how the 2013 Women's European Championship laid sod in a turf venue in Sweden and how that surface held up for multiple weeks and multiple games (similar to the conditions of the 2015 Women's World Cup).
3. FIFA certifies turf and puts the FIFA stamp of approval on it. So it appears that we have a messaging issue: How can FIFA put its stamp of approval on turf and then not allow it for World Cup games? To which I would argue, even FIFA states on its "FIFA Quality Programme" website that "turf is the best alternative to natural grass." Alternative, not "better than grass." In countries or places where an appropriate grass surface is not an option, then turf is indeed a great alternative. But that is only when grass does not or cannot grow.
I have been in favelas in Rio where next to a beautiful turf field is a muddy, bumpy mess of a dirt field. In this case, players of course prefer turf.
More non-breaking news, folks: Canada can grow grass.
4. And then of course there is the argument: Perhaps Canada does not want to play on grass. The Canadians play most of their games on turf. They are familiar with it. And given how vocal the U.S. players have been about their displeasure at playing on turf, maybe, just maybe, our friends to the north are more than happy to keep the turf. I'm not buying that. Given the option, I have to think Canadian players would choose to play on natural grass.
What I don't get is why turf was ever acceptable.
If, as Sepp Blatter contends, "the future of football is feminine," then WHY would you want to play your premiere women's event -- the best marketing tool we have for the women's game -- on a surface that will not highlight the best of the game? There is a higher incidence of injury on turf and the ball is more difficult to control, forcing players to approach the game in a different way.
The Women's World Cup gives FIFA a chance, once every four years, to showcase the growth of women's soccer. It gives FIFA a highly visible opportunity to encourage countries around the globe to also support their women's programs. It gives FIFA the forum to show countries the potential of women's soccer if only you support it.
So WHY then would you allow a surface that is inferior to natural grass and diminishes the quality of the game? Yes, it will cost FIFA more money to lay down sod properly. (Gehrke kindly did the math, and based on the cost of the Euro 2013 transformation, "the cost to bring safe and high quality grass playing surfaces [to Canada] would be around $3 million.")
Last I checked, FIFA and money are not estranged lovers; $3 million to FIFA is a cheap date having the salad.
The best argument for why FIFA should put in grass is because it is the right thing to do. Not because of gender, not because of discrimination, not because of external pressure. But for the growth of the game, for the beauty of the game, for the love of the game.
Because when Canada makes that 2026 men's World Cup bid, which the country has publicly and repeatedly said it will, I would bet my left lung that their bid will include all-grass venues. Of course it will; it is the right thing to do.
So do the right thing, FIFA -- not just because you should, but because the game deserves it.