The Canadian Soccer Association is facing backlash from several players who are expected to be stars of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. The backlash is coming from the fact that when Canada hosts the event it will likely be contested entirely on artificial surfaces.
Vancouver's BC Place, Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, Winnipeg's Investors Group Field, Ottawa's Frank Clair Stadium, and Montreal's Olympic Stadium all use artificial surfaces, and by the time 2015 arrives Montcon Stadium will have made the switch from natural grass to an artificial surface. That means that all six stadiums hosting games during the 2015 World Cup will be doing so without grass and that is not sitting well with many in the international soccer community.
The loudest voices speaking out against playing the 2015 World Cup on turf have come from the United States where the likes of Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan have already taken to social media to question the decision, pointing to the fact that a men's World Cup would never be played on turf.
I think we need to start petitioning FIFA to not let games be played on Field turf for the World Cup. Who's with me? #2015WWCnaturalgrass— Abby Wambach (@AbbyWambach) March 21, 2013
There were more examples from twitter including several members of the USWNT retweeting a petition that was setup against the use of artificial playing surfaces. The petition that the players took time to share around is only up to 1,696 signatures now, while another one which popped up has only managed to collect 228 names. To be fair though, it was not only Americans who took time out to send out complaints via twitter as other players from around the world chimed in with similar statements.
Wambach was also critical of the decision to play games on turf in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl saying, "We believe this is a shame not only for the players but for the fans. The game plays differently on artificial surface, not only because of fear of injury but because it's a different surface. You can also talk about it being a gender discrimination issue. Would they ever let the men's World Cup be played on an artificial surface?"
Wambach and other members of the US women's team have spoken of mobilizing some of the biggest names in the game in hopes that they can work with FIFA to force the Canadian Soccer Association to change its plans to play on turf before the 2015 event roles around.
With just over two years to go before the event, there is plenty of time for the plans to change and for players like Wambach and Morgan to have their voices heard, but with the continued increase in turf fields around the World it is only a matter of time before high profile games are played on an artificial surface.
Canada's plan to play the matches on turf would have required some form of approval from FIFA before becoming a reality. The CSA is not in a position as the hosts of the event to use surfaces that are not approved by FIFA for the event and thus far their World Cup preparations have all met the approval of soccer's governing body.
The reality of why Canada would want to play these games on turf is a simple financial one, as if they were to bring in temporary grass surfaces for each stadium for the entire event it would end up costing millions of dollars that the CSA cannot afford.
There is a case to be made that playing a women's World Cup on artificial surfaces could open the door for FIFA to stage major international events in a wider variety of countries than ever before. With upcoming men's World Cups scheduled for Russia and Qatar, it is clear that FIFA is already pushing to have such events in countries who would have previously been considered unsuitable for hosting duties. If artificial playing surfaces were to become an accepted standard, it would open up the whole world for FIFA to consider as hosting options as such playing surfaces can stand up to any conditions.
The complaints being led by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan does bring up one flaw in their arguments. Neither star player is complaining about the fact that some clubs in the new NWSL will be using artificial playing surfaces. That list of teams includes Wambach's Western New York Flash who play at Sahlen's Stadium on FieldTurf and Morgan's Portland Thorns FC who play on a similar surface at Jeld-Wen Field.
In fact, only two of NWSL's eight clubs will be playing their home matches at a stadium with natural grass. Other than the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC the entire league will be playing on some form of artificial surface, but the players are far less quick to complain about that fact. It raises the question of why an artificial surface is good enough for many of the World's top female players during the club seasons but is not good enough for them during the World Cup.
It will be interesting to see how this debate unfolds over the coming months and to see if the likes of Wambach speaking up is enough to cause FIFA and the CSA to change their plans for hosting the World Cup on turf.
With a number of FIFA youth tournaments using turf in recent years and the CSA showing no signs of changing their plans the World Cup in 2015 could well end up being the biggest event to ever take place entirely on turf regardless of what complaints players might have.
There is also the fact that the leading voice in complaining about the playing surfaces happens to be Abby Wambach. The reigning FIFA Player of the Year is already widely disliked by Canadian soccer fans for her role in the counting incident that ended Canada's dreams of winning Olympic gold.
Wambach is well known for being a player that will do anything to get a leg up on the competition and it has paid off for her. There is no questioning that she has been one of the best female players ever and has been a key figure in the United State's recent dominance in the international stage. She does that with talent but also with any other means necessary as we saw at the Olympics.
A World Cup played on turf might be bad for the aging Wambach because it could impact her game or give an edge to the Canadians that are used to playing on the surfaces but even that reason rings hollow in the light of the fact that the majority of her American team, Wambach included, will be quite familiar with turf by the time 2015 comes around thanks to it being so common in NWSL.
At the end of the day I would prefer the event to be played on natural grass surfaces, but if given the choice between lasting improvements to facilities including the building of new training facilities in the host cities and spending money on temporary grass I am going to take the former option. The World Cup is about leaving a legacy for Canadian soccer and not just about pleasing Abby Wambach and any support she is capable of wrangling up for her cause.
It is a point that was laid out quite well by Ben Rycroft in an article for CBC where he talks about the World Cup, Wambach, and that word legacy. It is well worth taking the time to read as I feel it shows just how irrelevant Wambach's complaints really should be.
For anyone that remembers Special1TV this is a moment where I wish puppet Jose could pop up and hit Wambach with a nice "shut up, Abby".