The ringing in of a new year often marks a time for change and progress to occur on both small and large scales. It is typically a time when resolutions are set, and steps are taken toward the betterment of oneself and others. For FIFA, the governing body of soccer, however, its 2015 resolutions don’t appear to include the betterment of its female players participating in this summer’s World Cup.
With just five months left until kickoff, the troubled landscape—both physical and political—of the upcoming tournament in Canada remains virtually unchanged. Since March 2013, some of the biggest names in women’s soccer, including America’s Abby Wambach, Spain’s Veronica Boquete, and Germany’s Nadine Angerer, have spoken out against FIFA’s implementation of artificial playing surfaces for the sport’s biggest tournament. In October, a lawsuit was filed by the players and a full-on “turf war” was waged against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association under the grounds of gender discrimination.
The players’ case is highlighted by the fact that all 26 previous World Cups, including both the women’s and men’s tournaments, have been played on grass. Also, the upcoming men’s World Cups in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively, will be played on grass surfaces.
Besides these details, the female soccer stars have posited that a turf playing surface will change the way the game is traditionally played, increase the risk of injury, and diminish their value as players in front of an international audience. The change from turf to grass in the tournament’s six stadiums would cost FIFA roughly between $3 and $6 million, which is just a fraction of the organization’s exorbitant yearly earnings.
Since the lawsuit was filed in October, FIFA and the C.S.A. have gone to great extremes to freeze the players’ efforts for change. Whether ignoring mediation efforts, refusing to address the situation as a gender issue, or presenting reprisals for players involved in the lawsuit, soccer’s head honchos are not-so-stealthily attempting to thwart the mission of their female representatives.
When asked by reporters recently if the Canadian Soccer Association has considered any logistical data regarding the switch from turf to grass, C.S.A. president Victor Montagliani’s response was a telling indication about where the organization stands on the issue.
Montagliani answered, “There has been no need.”
While the switch from turf to grass is still possible, each passing day makes it less probable for the change to occur in-time for the summer tournament. Unless the soccer higher-ups have a change of heart and decide to properly mediate with the female players about their requests, an upcoming trial will be imminent and could cause the hourglass to run out on the case.
Juliet Macur of the New York Times reported in December, however, that the desired pitch-changes could take less time than people think.
Macur stated, “Turf experts say they could start growing new sod by April or May and install it in time for the World Cup opener in June.”
Macur also reported that the use of existing sod could reduce the preparation time to just two or three weeks before the tournament, and further, if pre-grown grass is transported on movable trays, it could be implanted onto the fields just before kickoff.
Despite the plausibility of these options, the timeliness of the case is still one of the foremost concerns of the players, especially due to the inaction of FIFA and the C.S.A. regarding the lawsuit.
Yet, a small victory was recently won for the women’s World Cup participants, when the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled in mid-December that FIFA and the C.S.A. had three weeks to respond to an amended suit involving allegations of reprisals against the players. While the amendment does not guarantee action in favor of the players, it forces the governing bodies to make some sort of timely acknowledgment to the case.
As the case proceeds into 2015, women’s soccer’s elite will surely be met with disregard and challenges from soccer’s governing bodies, as well as backward-thinking members of the media.
Case in point: Sports columnist Chris Rattue from the New Zealand Herald recently ranted about the turf war with an ad hominem piece attacking female athletes for their inferior genes. Rattue trivialized the turf conflict at hand by reducing it to an unnecessary issue created by bitter women who have an ax to grind with men.
Rattue said, “There is also a simmering resentment in women’s sport about its treatment which sometimes manifests itself in wanting to prove it is the equal of men. Genetics makes this impossible.”
The subjective and opinionated nature of Rattue’s attacking claims continued when he stated, “As with almost all team sport, top-level women’s football will never be as good to watch as top-level men’s football as we know it. Men are stronger and more dynamic. Call me a sexist pig, but the A-League – which isn’t exactly world class – is better to watch than any women’s football I’ve seen.”
Kate Fagan of espnW disputed Rattue’s claims in a poignant and fact-focused piece, unlike that of the self-proclaimed “sexist pig.”
Rattue’s comments, coupled with the inaction of FIFA and the C.S.A., draw attention to issues beyond the World Cup that loom heavily over women’s sports today. Issues of sexism and inequality, dogmatism and bigotry, still pervade through the 21st century sports landscape for female athletes.
While the start of a new year typically signifies a time when improvement and progress are dominant forces within a society, that is not the case for today’s most-talented women’s soccer players, who find themselves stymied by sexism and disregard. At the mercy of old-world thinkers and the rulings of the court, they are pitted against both time and obstinate philosophies in their collective quest for change.
And though the sand keeps moving through the hourglass, it doesn’t always mean progress is being made.