The elephant in the room: CFL is the forgotten partner in the Women’s World Cup turf-vs.-grass debate By Steven Sandor Posted on September 30, 2014 11 0 751 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter 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.