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FIFA visit: Will Women’s World Cup spell doom for Clarke Stadium’s old turf?

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Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium has got the thumbs-up Thursday from FIFA inspectors ahead as they continue their tour of Canada.

But Canadian Soccer Association General Secretary Peter Montopoli, who is with the FIFA contingent as they tour the Women’s World Cup 2015 sites, said that the expectation is that the training grounds used by the world’s top national sides will be up to the same quality as the artificial surfaces in the stadiums.

And that leads to an interesting question when it comes to Edmonton, a city that is hosting more Women’s World Cup matches than any other city. Clarke Stadium, the city-owned facility that’s next door to Commonwealth and adjacent to a brand new fitness centre, would be a natural fit as a practice area. It’s where FC Edmonton plays its NASL matches. But the turf on it is terrible. Seams are coming up. Football lines are sewn in. Two FCE players have been hurt by catching their cleats on the turf this season.

The Clarke turf is at the end of its 10-year life-span. Will next year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup and the 2015 Women’s World Cup mean that Clarke’s existing turf will finally be sent to a landfill? A new artificial turf, one which would allow for soccer and football lines to be applied and then removed, would be ideal.

“Clarke is one of the options we are looking at (for a training ground),” said Montopoli. “We are looking at having two-star artificial surface, one without the gridiron lines, on our training grounds.”

Translation: If Clarke is selected as a training ground, then the turf has to be changed. If the old stuff stays, then it won’t be used by the international sides.

Mayor Stephen Mandel, who is leaving public office in October, believes it’s time to change the turf — but it’s not his call.

“It will be up to the next council,” said the mayor. “But this is a very important event for the city and the province and it’s very important for Edmonton to offer the best facilities possible. I would love to see us develop a small stadium for soccer. FC Edmonton has made a tremendous effort to make it work. I think we need a set-up somewhere for soccer, but until that time we have to make it work for football and the other kind of football.”

And that means an artificial surface where the lines can come on and off.

L-R: FIFA Director of Competition Mustapha Rahmy, CSA General Secretary Peter Montopoli, FIFA Director of Women’s Competition Tatjana Haenni, Alberta Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation Richard Starke, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.

As for Commonwealth, the replacement of all the seats is done. New locker rooms and a Jumbotron will be installed for next year.

“The existing infrastructure of this beautiful stadium fulfills the requirements of the FIFA World Cup or Women’s World Cup,” said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s director of women’s competition.

She said some “fine tuning” still needs to be done on the stadium, such as the media and VIP areas.

Commonwealth’s next major test will come Oct. 30, when the Canadian women’s team hosts South Korea.

“It’s very important for us to test our systems we put in place, that we promised FIFA we’d put in place,” said Montopoli. “It will be impotant to see this city behind our tea, that the support will be there for our first match (at the Women’s World Cup, Canada opens in Edmonton), and show why Edmonton was selected as the host site of those important matches.”

FIFA officials were in Ottawa two days ago and Winnipeg on Wednesday. They travel to Vancouver Friday.

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