Home Canadian Soccer The Association The elephant in the room: CFL is the forgotten partner in the Women’s World Cup turf-vs.-grass debate

The elephant in the room: CFL is the forgotten partner in the Women’s World Cup turf-vs.-grass debate

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When it comes to the looming legal action against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over the decision to stage next year’s Women’s World Cup on artificial turf surfaces, there are some rather large elephants in the room who are choosing to remain quiet.

And those are the Canadian Football League teams. They stand to have further disruption to their seasons if the owners of the multipurpose stadiums being used for the WWC would have to tear up the turf and lay down grass.

On Friday, a deadline imposed by the lawyers for U.S. star Abby Wambach and her cadre of anti-turf allies went by. All FIFA did to, ahem, mark the occasion was to publicly confirm that an independent company has been hired to ensure that all of the game and practice fields in the Canadian host cities will meet the highest standard for artificial surfaces (CLICK HERE). So, the next step would be for Wambach and co. to follow through on their threats and take the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA to task through a human-rights tribunal or, maybe, eventually to court.

Now, I’ve read through the legal briefs, and I’ve gone through a lot of the pro and con articles out there. But, one thing no one talks about, whether it’s from Wambach’s group or those who say we can lay down grass and then pull it up (CLICK HERE), is how it affects the other users of the stadiums.

There is definitely an arrogance out there amongst the anti-turf crowd; because the movement has been spurred outside of Canada, they have very little idea about the stadiums being used. They don’t seem to understand that these are shared, multipurpose facilities. In 2014, the Canadian Football League was quite accommodating, having the Edmonton Eskimos clear out of Commonwealth Stadium in order for U-20 Women’s World Cup matches to be played there. Next year, the sacrifices will be greater; the Ottawa RedBlacks, the Eskimos, the BC Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will all have their seasons affected.

Of course, the reason our major multipurpose stadiums use artificial turf — in most cases, FieldTurf — is to offer the most bang for our municipal bucks. The surfaces can take the pounding of multiple sports and non-sport events. And, football tears up grass like no other sport — so the CFL teams want to be on the fake turf, to keep costs down, yet keep players a lot safer than when they played on the old hard neon green carpet we remember from VCR-tape highlights.

The CFL season traditionally begins right on or near Canada Day (July 1), ensuring that the Grey Cup, this country’s biggest annual sporting event, can be played in November. Training camps happen in June. Of course, the Women’s World Cup is played throughout June into early July. So there’s a conflict.

Already, the CFL is making major sacrifices for next year. With four of their stadiums in use by the Women’s World Cup, the schedule will need to be delicately managed. For example, the Edmonton Eskimos will hold a large portion of their training camp in Fort McMurray, five hours north of their home city. They will play a preseason game in Fort Mac. Other CFL teams will need to make alternate arrangements for the beginning of the 2015 season, too.

The world has known since 2011, when Canada won the bid for the WWC, that this tournament would be staged on turf. So, it would be more than a bit unfair to go and change the playing surfaces with just a few months notice to your pigskin partners who have already adjusted their seasons.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? Why has it taken this long to launch legal action, when this was all announced in 2011?

Over the past couple of days, I’ve tried to solicit the CFL front office, plus the Eskimos and Lions — the two teams who will be most affected by the WWC — for comment. They’ve all declined to say anything at this time. They’re being wise: Choosing to let the sleeping dogs lie.

But this is for sure; the Eskimos and Lions will be itching to get back into their home stadiums. They can do that in short order on the turf; but grass would open a series of questions. Can they get into the stadiums within a couple of days of the WWC’s conclusion? If grass would be placed, would they be forced to have to play on it, creating an unforeseen ongoing maintenance cost?

The CFL is big, big business in Canada. So it’s galling to see so many outsiders criticize our Women’s World Cup process without taking the CFL into account. Before telling us what to do, understand our sporting culture first.

How big is the CFL in Canada? According to Yahoo’s Chris Zelkovich, in the last weekend of August, the two most popular sporting programs in Canada were CFL games. (And four of the top six, CLICK HERE) And, in the first weekend of September, despite the NFL kicking off south of the border, the CFL topped the sports ratings list — and took three of the top five spots. (CLICK HERE) The only CFL city where the league struggles for ratings and bums in seats is Toronto; and that’s a moot point, because Toronto’s not a WWC host city.

In North America, the soccer community has always had a problem — of looking down on other sports. Instead of seeing partnerships, we have, far too often, taken a holier-than-thou attitude. Look at how the baseball community rallied in New Westminster when they felt that the Whitecaps were trying to colonize their historic home park by bringing a USL-PRO affiliate into town. (The proposal was defeated by city council). If we want soccer to work, we have to see other sports and leagues as our friends.

If Canada wants a World Cup 2026 bid to work, it will have to get the support of the CFL. It will need to show it’s a good partner, that it can share its stadiums nicely. And, for those who want to criticize Canada’s WWC without taking into account the other tenants in the stadiums, I would like to offer one word of advice. RESEARCH. Do it.

And remember that this WWC is not taking place in soccer stadiums. It is taking place in multipurpose stadiums that are being used for soccer. Big difference. And, if you want to complain about that, well the deadline for that passed some time in 2011, when the WWC was awarded.

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11 Comments

  1. James Knowles

    October 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    While I can understand your stance with regard to the CFL, the issue here is about equality. FIFA is in charge of this, not the NWSL, not MLS or any other North American entity. This is FIFA’s tournament and for the men’s equivalent, turf is unacceptable. To say that it is acceptable for women is to say that they are different – probably to say they are lesser. The timing may not be great, but your argument against the lawsuit has nothing to do with the problem they are addressing.

    Reply

    • Jayme

      October 3, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      James

      If all men’s evens were on grass maybe they would have a case, but many events are not on grass and if the women win then you’re going have people saying the Pan Am games should be on grass.

      Now with that said he female players seem to havw some very big backers; if they said we would be willing to pay for half, then maybe then, it would be able to work and it’s a win win for all.

      Reply

      • James Knowles

        October 3, 2014 at 10:54 pm

        FIFA tournaments are never done on turf. Qualification games are in some places because that’s all they have; but they don’t turn around and host tournaments in places where that’s all they have. If they didn’t have a backup plan, they shouldn’t have chosen Canada. I’m glad they did choose Canada; but to not play on grass is discriminatory.

        Reply

        • Steven Sandor

          October 3, 2014 at 11:17 pm

          Actually, James, FIFA has played U-20 World Cup in 2007 on a mix of turf and grass. But the opening game and final were played on turf.

          Reply

          • James Knowles

            October 3, 2014 at 11:20 pm

            No FIFA senior world cups, which is what this is.

        • Jayme

          October 3, 2014 at 11:46 pm

          Yes most have been on turf, such as the under 20 world cup. As for if they should have picked Canada, there was no oher country that wanted it — the other thing this could lead to is Fifa saying we’re going to cancel the event and maybe look at bringing it back down the road.

          Reply

    • BJ Hart

      October 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Well said Mr. Knowles. The 2015 World Cup will be the largest sporting event in history for women, with an exciting increase from 16 to 24 teams competing for the holiest of futbal/soccer grails. To clarify, the lawsuit is about equality, first and foremost. FIFA oversees both women’s and men’s senior World Cup tournaments and never has either been hosted on artificial turf. The unfortunate truth is, throughout history, unless ladies like Abby Wambach had spoken out, women would still not have the vote — and in the case of Brazil, girls would still be forbidden to play soccer (which only changed in 1979). It’s just too bad that the WC organizers didn’t engage in proactive dialogue with the soccer players earlier — who did not want to go to court, but wanted to discuss the issue, which sadly never occurred. So it seems they were left no choice. And on a side note, women play for the pure love of the game — no million dollar babies here — one USA female soccer pro recently told me that the majority of pro women soccer players make less each year than a full time McDonald’s employee. Yet unlike seen far too often on the men’s side (which to me slows the game down), you will rarely if ever find an elite woman soccer playing diving to feign injury — they find it disrespectful to the beautiful game. Amen.

      Reply

      • Seathanaich

        October 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

        What bull—-, BJ Hart. The US WNT make a very good living, which is why traitor LeRoux defected to them from the Canadian programme. Only people close to them, as you claim you are, can’t see them as the whiny, spoilt, cheating, unethical, self-entitled, tabloid-starring, narcissistic bunch that the whole rest of the world can see them as.

        Reply

      • jayme

        October 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

        The issue as of now is there is not much inerest in hosting the WWC. Now you say all games must be on grass, there will be far less interest and i think it would end up being the end of the event.

        Reply

  2. Seathanaich

    October 1, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Abby Wambach is the perfect embodiment of the USWNT, the most arrogant, whiny, insufferable, obnoxious, and self-entitled group in the history of sport. Anything that annoys her and her ilk is clearly worth maintaining for that reason alone.

    Reply

  3. rev. tim lovejoy

    October 1, 2014 at 6:12 am

    ive had it up to here with the american whiners.
    they play in a league where 2/3 of teams play on turf, in a country where over 90% of work done by US elite development is done on turf, where indoor covered practice fields are a must in winter and they now dont like turf?
    r they going to sue their league? of course not, its an afterthought that is happy to get any field.

    everyone knew in 2011 but what about 2012 when the road to London went through a qualification tournament in Vancouver? they didnt complain or threathen to sue over the turf.

    as for the grass? are you seriouly considering plopping grass over turf? i worked that game in montreal vs AC Milan and thevfield was a menace to the players. you were never sure when you turned, jumped or breaked hard if a long strip of grass was going to slide under you. the chances for injuries was huge and the euros hated it. And thus was ONE game… how are you planning to play many? roots need time and something to hold onto. this cannot be an option that is serious if injuries is concern.

    but this isnt about injuries. or about turf.
    its about proving a point, that women and mens soccer somehow are the same thing.
    they are not.
    womens soccer is still a very immature sport internationally (only womes hockey is worse…its actually a joke internationally). the first wc was in the 90s while ll the other major sports were around decades before (first womens basketball worlds was 1953, three years after first mens wc).
    no one owes women anything though.
    turf is a reality cross this country, good players send 12 months a yr on it inside and out, thats our reality. as it is acoss the greatest academies in europe.
    FIFA agrees that the fields are legal because it s the future whether u like it or not,..

    dont let the red herring of injury fool you.
    there are nowhere in the world a collection of more valuable kids than the players at La Masia, yet all their kids from the smallest to about u16 play on turf (checkmtheir youtube for gols of the week by the academy teams).
    youd think Barcelona could use grass fields but they prefer turf. and they have no problems putting their young cattle on turf (lets be honest, anyone of those kids could e worth more than all US tem put together).

    i saw this link on twitter that i suggest u watch, http://youtu.be/0i6Xov562SM. its a five min clip of some goals by a teenage Messi.
    please pay attention to the fields… apart from a few earth only fields, they are ALL turf !! (and its the old kind)

    so its good enough for young Messi, Iniesta and Pique but not for women?

    BS.

    Reply

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