Pitch debate will continue to hover over Women’s World Cup

Controversy over the use of synthetic surfaces for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup has been dismissed by Bonar Yarns, one of the pitch suppliers for this year’s tournament in Canada.

The Scottish manufacturer has worked on a number of playing surfaces, including Allianz Park which is home to the English rugby club Saracens, as well as the Olympic Stadium in Montreal which will host a number of Women’s World Cup games this June, including a semi final.

The Olympic Stadium pitch was constructed by Bonar Yarns in conjunction with Act Global in time for the Under 20 Women’s World Cup which took place in August of last year.

According to Act Global, their Xtreme Turf DX60 system uses the latest in sports technology:

The DX60 system offers the most resilient grass-like fibers, proven by extensive wear testing. The artificial grass blend provides a natural grass appearance, while offering optimal performance, comfort and durability.

The pitch is officially Two Star Recommended, meaning it can be utilised for any FIFA sanctioned matches or tournaments.

Montreal's Olympic Stadium has a synthetic surface and will host Women's World Cup matches
Montreal’s Olympic Stadium has a synthetic surface and will host Women’s World Cup matches

However, the use of such surfaces has been met with a negative response from players, and last October a law suit claiming sexual discrimination was filed against the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and FIFA.

In total, more than 50 players from the United States, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Colombia, France and Costa Rica, including high profile stars like Abby Wambach and Nadine Angerer, got involved.

It’s a gender issue through and through … This being the pinnacle of our sport, we feel like we should be treated just like the men.

– Abby Wambach, United States’ all-time leading scorer

The suit was followed by a letter from 13 United States senators to FIFA, urging the federation to alter its stance and “begin good faith negotiations with these athletes, free of retaliation and with the equal treatment that they deserve”.

However, FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke defended the choice of surface for the World Cup, and stated that something similar could be used for men’s tournament’s in the future.

He also refuted suggestions that it was a decision based on cost, pointing out that it would be too difficult to ensure suitable grass surfaces for all venues due to Canada’s climate.

The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) 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.

 

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.

The law suit against the CSA and FIFA was eventually withdrawn in January of this year when a request for an expedited ruling was denied by an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, meaning that the case could have run on past the summer’s tournament.

While disappointed with the halt, Wambach said in a statement that she hoped people would now be more aware of a key issue facing female football players on the world stage.

Bonar Yarn’s Commercial Director, Bryn Lee, believes that it is a simple lack of education that is clouding peoples’ judgement when it comes to understanding how the pitches stand up compared to traditional real grass surfaces.

Opinions on 3G’s inferiority to natural grass are largely emotional rather than logical since many of the objections raised have been robustly disproved. It is so frustrating that the types of playing surfaces have moved on exponentially yet the prejudice against them hasn’t.

 

Many of us can remember the awful plastic pitches from our youth – and certainly no one should ever have to play a sport like football on those. However people objecting to synthetic surfaces should be aware that they are often perpetuating ignorance with no regard for the advances that have been made.

In a media release, Bonar Yarns suggests that “players need only look at facts, rather than believe the hysteria, when they next come to question 3G’s credentials”, and has attempted to allay the fears over the synthetic surface with a number of points, listed below:

1. Synthetic pitches alter how the game is played

No and certainly not in the negative way many believe. The ball travels across the surface naturally and tactics need no adaption from natural grass to 3G. Additionally, the greater stability and weather resistance provided by the turf facilitates improved ball control.

2. The risk of injury is increased on artificial turf

The biggest concern amongst players is simultaneously the biggest misconception. The yarns used in synthetic surfaces are incredibly soft and industry research, as well as practical application, has shown no link between 3G and increased injury risk.

 

Today’s turf offers improved shock absorption and must comply with Head Impact Criteria (HIC) guidelines. Rugby giant, Saracens, which installed a synthetic pitch at its Allianz Park stadium over a year ago, has seen no change in its injury record, in a sport with far greater body-to-surface contact.

3. Synthetic pitches are inferior for international competition

Not only are they good enough for one of European rugby’s biggest teams but they are arguably superior to some of the pitches used in the Champions League today. The durability of the turf ensures the quality is always consistent and it provides a safe, true and fast surface ideal for today’s sport.

Maya Dodd, a former Australian international and current FIFA executive member, stated last year that she understands the reasoning behind using synthetic surfaces, and they can be vastly superior to the grass alternatives.

In some countries, synthetic turf is the best or only viable option in order to host a World Cup, so I don’t think you can exclude it on that basis.

 

I’ve played on synthetic turf and it’s been better than a lot of the grass pitches I’ve played on.

No doubt we will be hearing more from both sides as the tournament edges closer, with the first game taking place in Edmonton on June 6 when the host nation takes on China.

Author Details

Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of BackPageFootball.com. Writes mostly on Premier League and A-League with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

One thought on “Pitch debate will continue to hover over Women’s World Cup

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*