FIFA on the wrong side of this “turf war”

SOCCER: Female players are not backing down in the fight to keep the 2015 Women’s World Cup off artificial turf.

By Jorge Belon, Editor in Chief

Top female athletes refuse to play in the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada on turf. And now the heated battle with female international soccer players on one side and FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) on the other is heading to court.

“Men’s World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf,” the players’ counsel, Hampton Dellinger, said in a statement. “The difference matters: Plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition.”

Men have not played on turf in the World Cup since 1930. If the 2018 World Cup in Russia were to be played on an artificial surface, the backlash would ruin FIFA. However, since the women’s game is still very young, FIFA and the CSA believe they can get away with shunting the female athletes to the plastic.

In Major League Soccer, the New York Red Bulls star Frenchman Thierry Henry has played all over Europe in his 20-year-career. In the old continent and pretty much the rest of the world, to play soccer on anything else but on grass is a crime. When he arrived in the States in 2010, he was introduced to turf.

Now when the Red Bulls play the four teams in MLS that use turf, he rarely plays. Now does anyone in FIFA or in CONCACAF (Which is the federation Canada belongs to.) force the former World Cup winner, to play, no they just let it happen.

Anyone who has played on turf and on grass for any sport knows there is a huge difference. Athletes don’t care how cheap the surface is to maintain; they widely consider turf not safe. But FIFA claims turf and grass is the same when it comes to injuries: Vice-Chairman of UEFA (Union of European Football Association) Medical Committee Dr. Jan Ekstrand has said a person can get the same injuries on turf as on grass.

Players – the people who actually have to face those potential injuries – largely disagree.

“Now that I look back on it, I feel like that [grass] allowed me to become the aggressive player I am today. Especially playing in Vancouver with the rain and grass. You can slide and do all these things,” Canadian native and U.S. international Sydney Leroux told ESPN.

Injuries in the recent years they have died down because players have become less aggressive on the field, due to the fear of getting hurt, and the fact that sliding on turf will cut open the skin.

“In my first true full season on turf at Boston, I completely ruined my leg. So it’s not even an argument. Everyone knows the raspberries you get by playing on turf. And the injuries,” said Leroux.

“Thierry Henry won’t even travel to Seattle [to play the Sounders] because he doesn’t play on turf. Some of the best players in the world refuse to play on turf. Look, I would play on dry Arizona grass in the heat of the summer before I would play on turf.”

The New York State Department of Health says, beyond injuries, turf is simply bad for athletes. They note the temperature on turf can rise up to 146 degrees. Even if water is added on to the field, in a matter of minutes it will go over a 100 degrees again.

Players can even be exposed to toxic chemicals by the surface.  In 2008, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said there was a potential of lead exposures from synthetic turf fibers, according to the New York State Department of Health.

According to Philly.com, a result was published in 2011 that there had been a higher number of ankle injuries due to artificial turf, in football, rugby, and soccer. The following year more stats came out pointing to the possible damage turf can cause, and that was the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) saw an increased risk of ACL injuries.

Now when a group of women want to make sure they play on grass instead of turf, FIFA and the CSA are outraged – but refused to meet with them to discuss their concerns without a judge present. So the players and Dellinger officially sued FIFA and the CSA on Oct. 1.

The suit calls this is a violation of Canada’s Human Rights Act, Section One: “Every person has the right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

With the World Cup starting on June 5 of next year, the fight is in crunch time, and neither side is near giving up. In fact, the very person in FIFA whose job it is to support and guide women soccer has turned against the players on this subject.

“We are playing on artificial turf, and there is no plan B,” Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s head of women’s competitions told the New York Times.

If FIFA steamrollers the female athletes into playing on turf, the 2015 World Cup may be the first one where there will be more injuries than goals.

“About a year ago when we heard definitively that they were gonna be playing it on actual artificial surface, I kinda came out pretty vocally and said this is an outrage, this is a disgrace,” the leading scorer for the U.S., Abby Wambach, told CBS News. “The game changes, the ball rolls faster, and it’s less fun as an athlete. It should be grass stains, not blood.”

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