Take a second if you can to imagine Lionel Messi on artificial turf during the World Cup Final. Think of odious rubber pellets kicking up with every flourish of the Argentine wizard’s wand of a left foot. Ugly red gashes glaring out at the camera from tired knees subjected to repeated clashes with the gravelly playing surface. Picture in your mind’s eye Toni Kroos, pirouetting in midfield to deliver yet another pinpoint pass, collapsing in agony as the false grass shifts wickedly to betray his surgically repaired knees. Unthinkable, no?
Why then, should Brazil’s Marta, Germany’s Nadine Angerer, or the USWNT’s Alex Morgan be forced to endure the ignominy of turning out on a turf pitch for the most prestigious event in their sport? Because they happen to be missing a Y chromosome?
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association is known for a number of things. Greed. Corruption. Crimes against humanity. But as John Oliver so brilliantly pointed out, they’re best known for an event that unites the entire world in our love for the sport: The World Cup. For that reason we can almost forget (at least for a few fleeting moments) that FIFA accepted bribes and has all but huffily closed its living room curtains against the damning evidence of modern-day slavery in Qatar, only just now succumbing to the overwhelming outside pressure from the world’s community.
Despite their appalling treatment of outside factors, FIFA makes sure that no expense is spared to make the World Cup itself a glittering panorama worthy of calling itself the greatest sporting even in the world. Mind-blowing stadiums, wonderful accommodations for teams and of course, sparkling, manicured, putting-green quality pitches. Countries have gone into crippling debt from hosting it in the proper fashion. For the best players in the world to paint their masterpieces, the canvas must be spotless.
In 2015, Canada will host the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a tournament FIFA initially named the “1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&Ms Cup” for fear of sullying the sacred name of the only tournament that mattered to them. This 2015 Women’s World will be played on turf, something that has never happened in the FIFA World Cup’s nearly 100 year history. Despite the almost universal calls for both FIFA & the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) to reverse their decision and move the tournament to natural grass, both organizations have remained unmoved. Fully forty of the top women’s footballers in the world, including USWNT star Abby Wambach, holder of the FIFA record for most international goals, have threatened to sue FIFA and the CSA for their refusal to budge on the issue. Friday, September 25th was the deadline set by lawyers representing the players, with litigation imminent.
Generous estimates put the cost of resurfacing the existing World Cup pitches with FIFA-quality grass between $3 and $6 million, which could admittedly be a serious hit to the Canadian Soccer Association’s coffers. Having been approved by FIFA themselves for a bid with artificial pitches, it might be considered harsh to expect them to pony up such a significant sum. The solution? Football’s governing body must move one step in the right direction, and right the wrong.
FIFA has a $1.4 billion cash reserve. For the women’s game to be given the respect it deserves, a proper venue for the highest pinnacle of the sport, it would cost less than 0.4% of the money that FIFA, a “nonprofit”, keeps in its rainy day fund. For this tournament to be played on turf would be a flagrant setback against the progress we’ve made and continue to make as an international society. That it has taken the threat of a lawsuit against football’s governing body, and still we have no positive action is nothing less than a disgrace.