Turf instead of grass for 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup an issue of gender discrimination or cost?

Dec 19 2017, 8:01 pm

The FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held throughout six stadiums in Canada in 2015. Although there is much anticipation building for this world-class event, FIFA’s decision to use artificial turf on playing fields is stirring up controversy.

FIFA has made the decision to use artificial turf for the women’s tournament; whereas the men’s World Cup is traditionally played on a real grass surface. This decision has got some of the female players calling the move gender discrimination.

FIFA’s choice to use turf instead of grass for the 2015 Women’s World Cup is only a small glimpse into the uneven playing field that is laid out for women in many professional level sports.

Former Canadian women’s national team soccer player Carrie Serwetnyk has been a strong advocate for change in the sport she is so passionate about. She is the founder of Equal Play, an organization that strives to provide equal opportunity for women and girls to participate in sports so they can develop not only as better athletes, but also as empowered leaders. Serwetnyk is a firm believer that the women’s World Cup can be utilized as a platform to create equity advances on and off the field.

Being the first female inductee into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, Serwetnyk has had a successful career as a top female footballer. However, her years of experience as a female athlete have also taught her that inequalities remain for women in sports. Currently, Serwetnyk is working on projects to raise awareness and create more opportunities for girls to participate in organized sports such as soccer. You can learn more about her endeavours here.

Serwetnyk spoke to Vancity Buzz regarding turf field being used for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and how this relates to the larger issue of gender discrimination in professional soccer.

“Grass is the superior surface to play on. In a sense (the choice for FIFA to use turf) is like saying that women’s Olympic track would be taking place on a cinder track instead of a rubber one. It’s just not the best possible surface for the sport to be played,” Serwetnyk stated.

Artificial turf is often to blame for an increase in sporting injuries including sprained ankles, turf burn, concussions and an injury known as “turf toe” – in which players experience sprained ligaments around the big toe joint.

When soccer is played on turf it also greatly impacts the physical style of play. With the risk of increased injuries, playing on turf means that players would have to be cautious of full body contact. In addition, turf also affects how the ball moves across the field and the overall quality of play experienced by the athletes.

Turf injuries were recently brought to light by basketball star Kobe Bryant who tweeted a picture of American professional player Sydney Leroux’s injuries after playing on turf.

Serwetnyk is not the only professional female soccer player who has publicly voiced her disappointment with the use of turf fields. She joins a group of international female soccer players who are threatening legal action against FIFA for gender discrimination.The group recently sent a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Canadian soccer officials stating their dismay of the use of turf, calling it a “second class surface.”

An online petition has also been created in which signees are calling on FIFA to ensure installation of grass fields for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The petition has garnered 9,601 signatures of support and needs 10,000 in order for it to be sent to FIFA’s top executives. According to the petition’s website, as of September 3, over 65 national team players from fourteen countries have pledged their support towards the cause.

In response to female players’ dissatisfaction with turf playing fields, some have claimed that installing grass fields for the women’s world cup would not be feasible due to the cost in relation to lack of funding. Another supporting argument for turf has been that the Canadian climate is not ideal for quality grass fields to be maintained.

Serwetnyk disagrees with these claims. “There is no way that men would be asked to play on turf,” she remarked. Serwetnyk highlighted that when David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy played against the Vancouver Whitecaps, a grass field was used. As was the case when the English Premier League’s Manchester City FC played a friendly match against the Whitecaps in 2011.

There is also a certain amount of skepticism in the claims that the Canadian climate will not be suitable for grass fields since the 2015 tournament will take place from June to July- months where most of Canada experiences warmer weather. It is important to note that the 2018 and 2022 Men’s World Cups will be held in Russia and Qatar, respectively. The weather and climate conditions may be possible setbacks in these countries, but so far the matches for these men’s tournaments will be played on grass.

In terms of financial support, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will only receive $15 million in federal funding from Ottawa as existing facilities and stadiums, without any need for renovations, will be used.

In comparison, the FIFA men’s tournaments cost billions of dollars to fund, largely because new stadiums and improved transportation infrastructure are required to host the month-long event.

The 2014 Men’s World Cup in Brazil racked up a bill of $15 billion USD.  Nevertheless, laying down grass in all six stadiums for the Women’s World Cup in Canada is estimated to only cost approximately $1.5 million.

Evidently, the men’s World Cup tournament is of a larger scale because it garners a broader international following. But why shouldn’t the women’s World Cup gain the same level of support and attention?

The Canadian women’s team is currently ranked ninth in the world. They have qualified for every World Cup since 1995 and did our nation proud by  bringing home the Olympic bronze medal in 2012. The men’s team has not been to the World Cup since 1986.

Furthermore, female soccer players are largely underrepresented when it comes to the important decision making processes made by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). In Canada, 47 per cent of registered soccer players are female, but of the fourteen members that sit on the CSA’s national board, only three are women.

Serwetnyk continues to advocate for the equality of female athletes. For her, the women’s World Cup is a great opportunity to advocate for this cause because it brings these issues to light on an international level. “The World Cup sends positive vibes. Girls around the world will see this and be inspired. That’s why we need the game to be fair,” she stated.

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup will bring together the top soccer players to an international stage. These athletes deserve the best playing surface possible so they too can showcase their talents to the world and demonstrate that the ‘beautiful game’ is also equal and fair.

Feature Image: BC Place Stadium

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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