Often the best way to implement change is with events that have little media attention. If no one says anything then slowly those changes can spread further into a sport and gain momentum to be introduced at the highest level.
This was no doubt FIFA’s goal when they instead of grass, they allowed some of the venues at the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup which got underway in Canada this week to use FieldTurf, an artificial alternative, that some say can alter the game.
What they did not reckon on was the outspoken Abby Wambach. In Sports Illustrated earlier in the year Wambaach was quoted as saying “I’m feeling like this is the women’s game taking a step back.”
The good news is that not all the FIFA U-20 matches will be played on FieldTurf surfaces. The bad news is that when the women’s 2015 World Cup gets under way, also in Canada, all six venues will feature the artificial grass.
Wambach is not alone as it was revealed this week that a group of about 40 female players from around the world had retained legal counsel to send a letter, organized by U.S. law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and Canadian firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, to Canada Soccer and FIFA last week.
According to The Equaliser, a women’s soccer website in the USA who obtained a copy of the letter, the said letter calls the turf “a second class surface” and says its use “is gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law, including human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The Equaliser followed up with both FIFA and Canada Soccer officials who confirmed receipt of the letter, but neither would give an official response.
The Toronto Sun however reported that FIFA President Sepp Blatter dismissed such concerns over the artificial surface, and pointed out that turf technology had come a long way in recent years and that FieldTurf in particular met its list of lengthy replacement-grass requirements, which are laid out for anyone to read in a 103-page document “The FIFA Quality Concept for Football Turf.”
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that this is the way forward for football. Many traditionalists do not agree.
It is strange that if it is the way forward why in England clubs such as Queens Park Rangers who installed a plastic pitch in 1981 along with Luton Town, Oldham Athletic and Preston North End all ended up abandoning such a move. QPR ripped up theirs in 1988 and Preston the last to do so in 1994 after eight years of use. In fact former England boss raised the subject of artificial pitches in his novel “They Used to Play on Grass” back in 1971.
There are many administrators in Australia, where the weather puts a great deal of pressure on grass pitches, who believe this is a logical and sensible way forward. An argument that carries a great deal of weight, but should top flight games be played on such a surface?
“The game plays differently on artificial surface, not only because of the fear of injury but because it’s a different surface,” Abby Wambach said in that same Sports Illustrated article. So maybe we should throw that famous line of Mr Blatter’s into the mix that unless it is done at every level of the game, it should not happen.
Either way its a great debate to be had.