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Grass vs. Turf: How FIFA Compromised the Women's World Cup

With the Women’s World Cup over, and the US as the champions, the ending was bittersweet in my opinion. And while I know I’m late to analyzing this point, I couldn’t watch without thinking about how every game was played on artificial turf, rather than natural grass.

For those who do not know, prior to this year, there had never been a World Cup played on artificial turf. All twenty Men’s Cups and all six Women’s Cups have been played on grass. So what were the factors leading up to the decision to play on turf? Sexism, sexism, and a hefty pinch of Male privilege thrown in.

Let’s go back to 2007-08 when Canada submitted a bid to FIFA to host the 2015 World Cup. In the bid, Canada wrote that all the games would be played on artificial turf. Now, reasonably, FIFA should have turned down this proposal and chosen one that promised to play all the games on grass.

That’s where the first problem arose. Canada was the only country to submit a bid for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Arguably it’s not Canada’s fault that it was the only bidder, and just happened to only be offering to play it on turf. But that certainly points the finger of blame straight at FIFA, to nobody’s surprise…

The problem here is not that FIFA accepted the only bid submitted, but that they didn’t demand Canada to alter it. And FIFA didn’t even offer to help Canada change the fields with financial support. This just shows how little FIFA cares about the Women’s game, and how corrupt and inefficient the organization is. Regardless of the profits or interest they expect to draw in the Women’s World Cup, FIFA should want to uphold the integrity of the game by ensuring the conditions that allow for the highest level of play.

Some might be thinking, “Ultimately FIFA couldn’t change the fields in time for the start of the World Cup, so we shouldn’t dwell on this and that this is not the usual way FIFA operates.” And I would have to politely disagree with you…

The 2014 Men’s World Cup was played in Brazil – a country in the Southern Hemisphere where the grass is dead from June to July. To compensate, FIFA shipped in grass and grass seeds from another country.

I’ll give you one guess as to where that grass and seed came from. Canada! FIFA paid to ship the grass in from the other end of the globe, just so that the men could play on grass! Starting to see the trend here?

So why is turf even in this conversation if, for the right amount of money, grass can be brought to any country in the world? Well, there’s no doubt that turf is cheaper and requires less maintenance. That makes it suitable for local games and events all over the world. But honestly, FIFA could have spent the estimated three million dollars, of their five billion dollar annual budget, to have the highest level of Women’s Soccer played on grass!

FIFA felt they had no obligation to ensure quality of play for the Women, which is a truly fundamental problem for an organization that supposedly has soccer’s best interests at heart. This is quite plainly sexism and male privilege being exhibited by FIFA.

They clearly did not refute the idea that the Women’s sport is “less exciting” or “less authentic” because Women can’t play the game the way men do. The men would never have to file a discrimination lawsuit against FIFA, and FIFA would never consider a bid for the Men’s World Cup if it suggested playing all the games on turf. You better listen up Canada! Because that bid for the 2026 Men’s World Cup better not include turf, that just won’t fly with FIFA!

And just to make sure the point of this article gets driven home, I’ll answer one final question. What is the real difference between playing on turf and grass? Basically everything that is critical to soccer…

Soccer is the definition of a team sport. Passing is so crucial in the game, and a matter of inches can decide the fate of a game.

The first major difference between the two surfaces is that the ball rolls faster and bounces higher on turf than on grass. So while the Women who played in the 2015 Women’s World Cup were the best at their sport, we saw many a pass go long or be fumbled because of the turf. Even the best in the world couldn’t compensate for the difference when making their passes. So much for protecting the integrity of the game, FIFA…

The second major difference is that turf presents it’s own complications when it comes to injuries. While there have been numerous studies suggesting that turf decreases the overall chances of injury, there is a higher chance of getting burns on your legs from sliding on the turf. Not only does turf impact passing, but it also impacts slide tackling on defense. Women have admitted to having to change their play style to avoid getting burns. They have to fundamentally change the way they defend, and FIFA says this is the highest level of Women’s soccer. What a joke.

The third major difference is that turf has been known to change the climate and atmosphere at ground level, increasing the heat at pitch level anywhere from 30-50 degrees!! So a normal game temperature, 70˚ F, becomes 100˚ F on the field. Crazy, I know.

So while the US Women played their hearts out and won the World Cup, sadly their achievement will always be slightly tainted. And I don’t think they deserve that. In my mind their win is on the same level with any other Women’s World Cup victory, as well as any other Men’s World Cup victory. The US still had to play the best opponents in the world, and they came out on top every time. Congrats to the USWNT, and here’s to hopefully seeing some change with FIFA’s regard for the Women’s game.

P.S. – One last fact that came out after the USA’s victory. The cash prize for the USWNT was 2 million dollars. The cash prize for Germany last year was 35 Million dollars. Stay classy FIFA!

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