As organizers for the Canada 2015 Women's World Cup stopped at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Monday, the fifth of six host venues for next year's tournament, organizers would've liked to have been able to focus on fine-tuning the success of this past summer's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in preparation of hosting the largest women's sporting event on the planet next year.
Instead, National Organizing Committee CEO for the 2015 Women's World Cup Peter Montopoli and FIFA Deputy Director and Head of Women's Competitions Tatjana Haenni deflected more questions circulating around the tournament's conflict with a group of elite female soccer players over a pending lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.
This past Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal by some of soccer's elite female stars, including the USA's Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, over the discriminatory and inferior nature of forcing the Women's World Cup onto artificial turf rather than grass.
When asked to comment on the matter, Haenni was hesitant in issuing a verdict on the case while the action is still being investigated. "It's an ongoing process and we have to see what happens," said Haenni, an ex-international for Switzerland.
In 2012, playing on artificial turf was a key angle to Canada's bid of hosting the 2015 Women's World Cup with FIFA's requirement of a consistent playing surface in all venues associated with the tournament. The decision led to host city Moncton's ground being renovated with turf and moving away from its natural grass surface in order to be a part of the bid.
"Since the beginning, it was clear that we would play on artificial turf. We worked with the CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) intensively on what's best and to have the same, equal quality for all stadiums, which was then decided to be artificial in all six venues. Since then we've worked on that process."
The idea that men would not be forced to play on an artificial playing surface for a major soccer event such as the World Cup is the basis on which discriminatory complaints were filed by the consortium women's soccer's elite players, despite some qualification campaigns from this past summer's 2014 World Cup in Brazil being played on turf.
In 2007, Canada played host to the U-20 Men's World Cup in which 1.2 million spectators took in the action across Canada. Manchester City's Sergio Aguero led Argentina to victory over the Czech Republic 2-1 in the final. Nice facts, but what's the kicker? Three out of the six tournament venues used turf as their playing surface. No mandate had been in place by FIFA at that time that called for a consistent playing surface across all venues.
"Three of the six stadiums were artificial and we had no issues there," said Montopoli, NOC CEO of the 2015 Women's World Cup. "We've done this before and we're very confident in what we proposed to FIFA, and we're moving forward with those details."
In addition, concerns over the safety of players due to the artificial turf called for the intervention of an independent surveyor to test and analyze the playing surfaces of all host venues. The hard surface is debated to cause more injuries to players, such as the dreaded turf burn, due to the plastic and artificial nature of the surface. According to FIFA, there is no statistical evidence that playing on turf leads to more injuries.
"We do an analysis of injuries for any World Cup tournament, and we have not realized any increase in injuries due to the turf," said Haenni.
So why not put in temporary grass surfaces over the artificial surfaces for a month or two? What's a few extra million to satisfy the anti-turf brigade? Solidarity and commitment to the original plan, say the organizers.
"It's just not an option," said Haenni. "The CSA submitted their bid years ago with the goal of using artificial turf. It was discussed, analyzed, and it was decided to have the same surface for all the teams at all venues. That's why Moncton was transferred over from natural to artificial, and I think now we planned on this and will work with it. "
With discussions flaring over pending lawsuits, the overall goal of developing and promoting the sport of soccer is being lost in translation. The Women's World Cup is an opportunity to showcase women's soccer as a pro sport and support its development even further in other countries of the world where some support is needed.
"I think it's a bit of a shame that all of these positive messages linked to the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada 2015 are going lost right now," said Haenni. "We have such a big impact on the country and women's football in Canada, and a chance to leave a legacy with infrastructure and artificial turf."
"I think for FIFA it's really key to grow women's football worldwide, and right now we're only talking about this turf discussion, which I think is a pity."
A tournament high of 22,000 spectators witnessed the host-nation Canada fall to the eventual tournament champions Germany 2-0 in the quarter-final at Commonwealth Stadium. 289,000 spectators attended the event over 32 matches in six cities coast to coast.
Edmonton will host a pair of marquis match-ups with Canada's first two games, paired with a semi-final match and the third place playoff. It is the Women's World Cup's busiest venue, and the last stop on the FIFA venue tour before ending in Vancouver on Tuesday. The draw is scheduled for December 9 in Ottawa.
A date for the official ruling on the lawsuit has yet to be determined, but for now, turf is the only option for next year's tournament.