FIFA, the international governing body for the sport of soccer, has been criticized for many things. The laundry list would include, but certainly not be limited to, the following:

  • The selection of Qatar as the host site of the 2022 World Cup.
  • An apparent lack of commitment to addressing head injuries, as noted in several examples from the 2014 World Cup.
  • An apparent lack of commitment to addressing recent revelations concerning match-fixing on a global scale.
  • And now, an apparent unwillingness to reconsider its decision to hold the sport’s most prestigious women’s event on an artificial turf surface that coaches and players long have criticized as inferior to grass.  The 2015 Women’s World Cup will be held at six venues across Canada, with all sites to utilize artificial turf as opposed to grass.

I never played soccer at a level higher than that of the local parish team as a teenager, so I am not qualified to comment on the merits of artificial turf versus grass. However, Brandi Chastain, one of our illustrious ISLE board members, has played soccer at the highest level, and I think her remarks should resonate with FIFA. Here is a portion of an interview Brandi did with the Vancouver Sun:

“I think Canada will be a great World Cup host, but the fact that all games will be played on artificial turf is a huge issue. If you tried to do that on the men’s side, you’d have the biggest uproar you’ve ever heard. They would not do that and you’re disrespecting women’s soccer by agreeing to do that. Apparently it’s not important enough to put it on real grass fields in the way it’s always been done. That’s frustrating. The 1994 men’s World Cup (held in the U.S.) was played in stadiums that had only artificial turf and FIFA forced them to install real grass fields. If they’d done the same in Canada, it would have shown the women’s game that FIFA values it as much as the men’s game.”

One wonders what it will take for FIFA to rethink the matter.

The 2011 women’s event was wonderful to watch, except of course for the ending in the championship game that saw Japan defeat the United States in a penalty-kick shootout that broke American hearts around the world. The quality of play was amazing, and one wonders whether the same high level of play will be possible on the artificial turf.

Let me shift topics for a minute. I’ve never been to Qatar, site of the 2022 men’s World Cup, but if what I read is true it gets quite warm there in the period when the men’s World Cup games traditionally are played. In fact, it gets so hot that concerns about the health of the players have been raised. Yet, FIFA appears content to stay the course, worries about player health and welfare notwithstanding.

That being the case, perhaps FIFA could claim that the decision to play the Women’s World Cup matches on artificial turf is simply another example of them making a bad decision and sticking by it. In other words, FIFA could argue, our poor decisions are in fact gender-neutral.

Sarcasm aside, the women’s players and coaches who make their livings competing at the highest level in this sport claim that the artificial turf is an inferior surface that inevitably will detract from the standard of play. Why would the governing body not listen to them?

Instead, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has responded that there really is no issue about quality of play, as in his view the artificial surface is just fine. So, President Blatter apparently believes that his knowledge of field conditions is superior to that of the folks who actually play the games on the fields.

What do you think? Should the players and coaches continue their fight to play on the grass surface, or is it time for them to acknowledge that the grinding bureaucracy that is FIFA will win again? I welcome your thoughts.