We’re closing in on the Women’s World Cup, which is a chance for the U.S. to demonstrate that men’s soccer is just a blip and that we really are the best at everything. It’s an awesome event, especially if you’re a fan of one of the top teams because you see your squad dominate minnows before epic titanic clashes. Looking at the previous two women’s major international tournaments, the Olympics and the 2011 World Cup, there are also a lot of goals and a lot of drama. Last minute goals, overtimes, shootouts.
Oh yeah, we’re also really good, so that’s pretty neat too. Instead of thinking of a last 8 finish as a success, the USWNT looks at everything but a trophy as a letdown.
Unfortunately, like so many things that FIFA has touched over the last few thousand years, this World Cup will also be stained with controversy. The Swiss-based organization and the Canadian Soccer Association decided that, for the first time ever, a World Cup will be played exclusively on turf.
Of course, there are tons of issues with this (more on this in a minute), and so Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, and players from several other nations filed a discrimination lawsuit against FIFA and CSA this past fall. It was fairly widely accepted that there wasn’t enough time to win the case, and that FIFA’s omniscient/omnipotent/omnipresent existence made it unclear if they were subject to a country’s judicial power. Basically, to my estimation, there didn’t seem like there was a lot of faith that they would be successful. They certainly deserved to win, and I think they had a solid case, especially given Canada’s progressive courts and their laws prohibiting discrimination, including against women. But all the same, it was a minefield. I think it was more of the women calling out what a load of hypocritical bull it all was, and that they weren’t going to just grumble and take it.
Now the suit has been dropped, presumably because they’ve accepted it can’t be won and the players are trying to zone in on preparing for the biggest sporting event of their lives.
To be clear: I do not blame them for dropping it. I think it would likely make a bigger statement if they all collectively refused to play, but for some, it’s their last chance to lift the biggest trophy in the sport. I would almost definitely do the same. And would it help or hurt the sport? I don’t know. It would certainly send a message though. As Wambach said, were the men forced to play on turf, they would strike. But I think many of them would likely cave too. That situation would never arise though.
So let’s talk about the moving parts here.
Difference in play
If you’ve ever played on turf, then you know there’s a significant difference between turf and grass. Because turf is smoother, it’s often faster. But if you’ve ever played on wet turf, then you know that’s nuts. The ball whizzes over the surface and the game is changed radically. True, wet grass has similar problems, but not as significant.
Something else you’ll have noticed if you’ve ever played on turf: it gets hot. Some argue that it adds a minimum ten degrees, which can be completely unbearable. I’m not a weather expert so I’m not sure what Canada’s climate will be like in the summer, but do you want to play on a surface that can add at least ten degrees? No you do not. It also heats up your cleats and feet like crazy, and many cleats nowadays have black soles. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s still not ideal.
There’s also a difference in what kind of cleats you have to wear on turf. On grass, you can wear the typical blades that you often see on firm ground cleats, or you can wear the metal studs that some prefer to wear on grass. On turf, however, you have to wear artificial grass cleats, which are more rounded. If you wear the incorrect shoes, which you’re used to and are preferred in any other situation, then you risk injury because of worse traction.
Perhaps the biggest argument athletes had was that they’re more susceptible to injuries. There’s the potential for increased: concussions, ACL tears, turf toe, rug burns and more. The latter is obvious. If you’ve ever slid on turf and suffered turf burn, then you know that it hurts like hell. It will rip through skin and leave oozing, bleeding, scabbing sores. If you get them on your knees or hips, then they make it tougher to run, move, shoot. Plus, if you ever slide again, then it’s likely you’ll rip them open. You have to disinfect them too, which is insanely painful. Turns out, sliding is pretty important in soccer, particularly if you’re a defender or goalkeeper.
Plus, injuries like concussions and ACL tears are potentially career-ending and can have longterm effects. Women are also much more likely to suffer a concussion. So what could possibly go wrong…
The fact is, you shouldn’t do anything that puts athletes in more danger than they already are while playing a sport. It’s not like this came out of nowhere, or some late study came out that the surface is more risky. These things are known.
Blatant. Effing. Sexism and FIFA’s ‘expert’
There is absolutely no way around it. This is pure sexism, an issue that FIFA has gained significant notoriety. For example, when asked what would increase the popularity of the women’s game, Sepp Blatter responded that they should wear shorter shorts. He also confused Abby Wambach’s partner for Marta, who is arguably the greatest women’s player since Mia Hamm and has won World Player of the Year five straight years and has been in the top three every year since 2005. He did not know what this woman looked like.
Are you going to tell me that they would make men play on turf? Absolutely not. The men would raise holy hell about it and threaten to strike. Because the men’s World Cup nets them hundreds of millions/billions of dollars, FIFA would bow to their demands in order to preserve their paycheck and influence, which is ultimately all they care about.
FIFA’s expert, who refers to himself as a professor but, to my knowledge, has no current educational employment, argued that the climate is a major cause, that the fields are too far north. Right. Just FYI: the northernmost Canadian stadium is farther south than all but one Russian location. So that means Russia will be played on turf, right? Do all Russian teams play on turf? I suspect not. Furthermore: The northernmost location, Edmonton, is still farther south than Newcastle. Man, I can’t believe we don’t hear more about how St. James’ Park is a frozen and desolate wasteland.
Their expert (I’m not going to use his name because the fool doesn’t deserve publicity for being a scumbag) works regularly for FIFA and helped develop turf. So, yeah, I don’t expect the inventor of the assault rifle to tell me that guns aren’t good for defending yourself. There is ZERO credibility in this man’s report, and suggesting otherwise is absurd, naive and just plain stupid.
He also argued that the stadiums were built, at great financial expense, for the Women’s World Cup alone. That is categorically false. As Bobby McMahon pointed out for Forbes, three of the six stadiums were built for either Canadian Football or concert venues. The World Cup was a pleasant coincidence. So turning these previously existing stadiums to grass and then back again would be expensive and ultimately financially silly for CSA and FIFA. And that’s what they care about. It’s all they care about. We all know this. If football was the most important, why would Qatar have a World Cup? Why would Russia, who is homophobic, economically disastrous, morally bankrupt, devoid of footballing culture or history and is currently attempting to subvert and destabilize a nation get a World Cup? Money. This is hardly a #hottake.
At the end of the day, this is pathetic. It’s abhorrent, disgusting, embarrassing and absurd. We expect nothing less of FIFA. But the Canadian Soccer Association should be ashamed of themselves for this. I hope they lose every game by double digits. I wish the women would boycott, but I really don’t blame them for not doing so. I sincerely hope that no one is injured, that everything turns out okay. But I fear it will not. We’ll watch the event anyway, just as we will with Qatar and Russia.
Oh, and by the way. Canada has been linked with a bid to host the men’s 2026 World Cup. I wonder what surface they’ll play on. God forbid they get it.