Despite calls by elite athletes to cover artificial turf with real grass for the Women’s World Cup in 2015, doing so might be logistically impossible.
Temporarily replacing the turf in the six Canadian fields would cost roughly $1.5 million. But it wouldn’t be safe for a lengthy tournament, said Bill Searle, president of NGF Golf. His company trucked in four-inch sod for a 10-day international friendly at BMO Field in 2009 at a cost of $250,000.
“Any time we’ve done it, it’s been for friendly matches, where they’re really not going at it,” Searle said Wednesday, adding the cost would remain the same.
“The Women’s World Cup would not be that, so I can tell you that would not be the way to do it — for safety reasons. Any team would not want to put their players out on a field that had not rooted in.”
The 24-team, month-long tournament kicks off June 6, 2015, and could also overlap with the CFL pre-season, which began on June 9 this year. Most of the fields are also home to the CFL, which doesn’t have natural grass at any stadium.
The stadium at the University of Moncton had grass, but it was replaced by artificial turf this year at a cost of $1.5 million, FIFA venue manager Stéphane Delisle told the CBC, which also reported FIFA would foot the bill.
Under FIFA regulations, all venues must have the same playing fields.
At Vancouver’s Empire Field, where the Whitecaps and Lions played during BC Place renovations, $200,000 worth of sod was laid ahead of a 2011 international friendly against Manchester United and several others. A sudden storm turned the field into a sodden mess, postponing the tournament.
Artificial turf must meet FIFA’s standard, but many coaches and athletes remain concerned about the risk of injury. The results of academic studies remain inconclusive — a 2013 analysis in the Journal of Sports Medicine “found no evidence that playing matches or training on (artificial turf) raises the risk of soccer players sustaining injury.”
The allegation that only female athletes would be forced to play on fake grass is also not new. Abby Wambach, the 2012 player of the year, said in 2013 that the women’s game would be “taking a step back” if forced to play on artificial turf during the marquee event.
“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?” she told Sports Illustrated. No World Cup — men’s or women’s — has ever been played on turf.
No Canadian players have openly joined the 40 or so women from the U.S., Germany, New Zealand, Australia and other countries protesting the use of artificial turf. The team of lawyers who authored the letter threatened legal action if the turf is not replaced with grass, which would “cost but a fraction of your organizations’ budgets thus defeating any (defence) of undue hardship.”
The federal government contributed $15 million toward the World Cup and the U-20 World Cup.
“The federal contribution (is) for the events’ operating budget and essential federal services costs,” Department of Canadian Heritage spokesman Pierre Manoni wrote in an email.
“Decisions regarding the playing surface at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 are the responsibility of FIFA.”
The Canadian Soccer Association declined to comment, deferring to FIFA, which has not responded publicly to the athletes’ complaint.