FIFA had the option to end the so-called “Turf War” last year by installing grass fields instead of artificial turf in the stadiums where next month’s Women’s World Cup will be played, but they didn’t, according to Team USA star Abby Wambach. Why? Because she says the organization is stubborn.
“There were companies (that) offered to pay for these grass fields to be put into these stadiums… They offered FIFA, offered the Canadian Soccer Association to do it for free (in) all the stadiums,” the 34-year-old forward told ESPN’s Julie Foudy in a video interview posted to ESPNW on Wednesday. “To me, it wasn’t about that there was grass or no grass, it was about FIFA not wanting to do anything that anybody else wanted except them wanting to do what they wanted to do.”
Off camera, Wambach told Foudy that it was FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who explained FIFA’s reasoning to her, which has to do with FIFA wanting to strictly stick to Canada’s original bid that it won by proposing the use of artificial turf. Apparently, once FIFA agrees to do something, it does it. Well, except for maybe cleaning up corruption…
Anyway, according to Wambach, not everything’s a loss with FIFA.
“[Valcke] assured us that the Women’s World Cup would never be played on turf again. He gave me his word, which for me, that’s a win,” Wambach said. “For me, that’s progress.”
Wambach and more than 60 other world-class female soccer players filed suit against FIFA and the CSA last year, alleging gender discrimination over the decision to use artificial turf instead of real grass. After several months of back-and-forth, the players withdrew the lawsuit from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in January. The reason cited by Wambach at the time was that the negotiations had hit a wall, but she did not reveal then that FIFA had allegedly turned down the no-cost solution.
Wambach and the others who joined her in her suit have made amends with playing the World Cup on imitation grass, but Wambach warns that the game likely won’t be played as aggressively as it would have on real grass.
“It’s like playing indoor soccer vs. outdoor soccer,” she said. “You don’t realize it (but) the subconscious mind doesn’t allow you to play as physical. Nobody slides as much, nobody gets into as many tackles when you’re playing on an artificial surface and that’s why it’s so important that playing on grass for our world event was such a big thing, not just to me but to so many other players in the world.”
She continued: “And I guarantee you — and I’ve said this all along — there’s no footballer, no world-class footballer on the planet that would prefer to play on artificial turf than natural grass.”
The Women’s World Cup kicks off — on artificial turf — on June 6 and runs through July 5.