In a recent interview released on Wednesday, October 29 by FIFA.com with FIFA Secretary-General Jérôme Valcke, the idea of a men's World Cup being played on artificial turf rather than grass was communicated to be more of a reality than many would have anticipated.
The interview sheds light on an issue that has been minimally addressed by the FIFA brass, after much of the upcoming 2015 Canada Women's World Cup discussion has been dominated by the argument of holding a major sporting event entirely on artificial turf. A complaint was filed to an Ontario Rights Tribunal on October 1 by a group of elite women's soccer players about the discriminatory nature of holding the 2015 Women's World Cup on the artificial surface rather than a traditional grass surface. Arguments were made also about the effects it has on the way the game is played.
"We fully understand that the players who have qualified for the Women's World Cup want to ensure that they have the best conditions to perform well. This is a goal they share with FIFA," said Valcke. "Everybody can be assured that we take the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 very seriously and are committed to working together with the National Organizing Committee to organize the best possible tournament."
"By the way, for many years now, any organizer of a FIFA event - irrespective of whether it be a men's or women's competition, including the men's World Cup - has had the right to propose for the tournament to be played on artificial turf, provided that it is of the highest quality and the same playing surface is used for all venues and training sites. It could well be that sooner rather than later the men's World Cup will also be played on artificial pitches. The Canadian Soccer Association proposed for the tournament to be played on artificial turf based on the fact that most sporting infrastructure in Canada is on artificial turf, primarily due to the extreme climate in the host country. It would be very difficult to ensure solid natural-grass pitches at all venues."
Canada has been the only nation that's been public about its plan to bid for the 2026 World Cup. As to whether or not it will be on artificial turf, the statements from Valcke support the argument of hosting the tournament on an artificial surface, if that's an avenue the Canadian Soccer Association is willing to explore.
The interview touches on playing all major FIFA sporting events on the highest quality of playing surfaces, and the surfaces for the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada have met the standard. A pitch expert was sent to all six participating venues in October to determine if the facilities would all meet the FIFA standard.
"As mentioned earlier and confirmed by the FIFA Executive Committee back in March 2013, the stadiums and training sites will be of the highest standard, which means, in terms of the FIFA quality program, two stars. Here, I want to reiterate FIFA's commitment to making sure that all pitches at the official stadiums and training sites will be of this two-star quality."
The action from FIFA also directly addresses the recent legal argument of holding the Women's World Cup on turf, but not a men's tournament. FIFA is adamant that it's not an issue of gender and discrimination; rather, an issue of the climate and nature of Canada.
"As has already been explained, this is not a question of money, or of differences between men's and women's events, but it is a matter of the natural conditions in Canada: we want to guarantee consistent top-level playing conditions for all 24 teams during the event, both in the official stadiums and at the training sites. This has been the sole reason behind the decision to play on artificial turf from day one."
Whether or not it was used as a tactic to nullify the discussion surrounding the Women's World Cup, the information represents a major shift in the way FIFA views the bidding process for major sporting events, specifically future men's World Cups.