FIFA's statement is clear in turf wars

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By LACEY DAVIS
College Contributor Network

The countdown to the Women's World Cup in Canada officially began when the calendars turned to 2015. However, the media attention shining on this tournament isn't as positive as FIFA, players and fans likely hoped it would be. With so much to look forward to, FIFA has found a way to ruin the moment.

The 2015 World Cup could be one of the most interesting in years for American fans. It's being held in Canada, making travel far easier than if it were anywhere else in the world other than on our soil. Abby Wambach, known for being incredibly determined and competitive, has yet to win a World Cup, the only major tournament she has been unable to win throughout her career. It is something that will surely only push her harder than usual.

The competition against the U.S. team is much steeper this year than any other. Starting with the 1999 World Cup, the American women have dominated the majority of teams that they faced. With each passing year, teams have improved. In countries where women's sports aren't revered as an important part of society, their teams have found ways to come together and become serious competitors.

Women's teams around the world have faced countless obstacles in forming teams, garnering national support and qualifying for tournaments every year. They have broken down barriers every step of their journey, knowing that the pride of playing for their nation is worth it.

However, as far as these women have come and as difficult as some of their battles have been, FIFA is becoming another hurdle for these teams to face. In this coming world cup, the world's premier women athletes will be playing on turf, not real grass. FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association are making a clear statement to the world.

Athletes, such as United States' forward Alex Morgan, have spoken out in concern for their safety on turf. It is a more slippery surface, causing athletes to fall more easily and land on ground that is far less forgiving. Players walk into the game with a higher risk of knee, ankle and other major injuries, as well as cuts and burns that are more severe than on grass. After games, players are prone to suffer from aches and pains that only come from playing on turf.

The most elite players in the world have spoken with FIFA and C.S.A. in an attempt to have the World Cup games played on real grass, not the turf that is currently in place at every stadium. The United States' Abby Wambach, Brazil's Marta and other internationally recognized star athletes have spoken with officials, lawyers, the media and anyone else that may have pull to get this world-class tournament on a world-class surface.

Wambach has recently proposed to only hold the semi-final, third-place and final games on grass, a last ditch effort at a compromise. According to one of the lawyers representing the players suing FIFA and the C.S.A., FIFA almost immediately rejected this proposal without a second thought, a lost opportunity to finally resolve the dispute.

"This is not a fight against the Canadian federation, or the players, or the venues. This is an issue with FIFA, and, I think, money, and a gender discrimination issue, hands-down." Wambach told ESPNW in 2013, when the turf issue was first coming to the media's attention. "The men's World Cup will never be played on an artificial surface."

In an email to the New York Times, FIFA said, "Article 3 of the FIFA statutes expressly prohibits discrimination of any kind." Specifically stating that FIFA, "remains a strong advocate for the equal treatment of men and women in all aspects of life."

For how much FIFA has stood by these statutes and statements, they don't have a long history of gender equality, only appointing the first woman to its governing committee just two years ago.

Wambach has a strong leg to stand on regarding her statement on discrimination. FIFA and fans around the world would never tolerate holding a premier men's soccer tournament on turf. In fact, in preparing for the 1994 Men's World Cup, FIFA required the artificial turf in the Pontiac Silverdome be changed to grass.

Trey Rogers, the scientist in charge of installing the new grass in 1994, spent $2 million and sleepless nights trying to find a way to make this possible. Now, in 2015, the research is done, blueprints are readily available and the issue is being brought up again, this time, without FIFA wanting to make any changes to the field.

"I know for a fact that it would work," Rogers said in an interview discussing the solutions to the ongoing 'turf wars.' "But it comes down to, 'Do they want to do it?'"

Jerome Valcke, the secretary general of FIFA, refused to participate in a conference call with Wambach, Marta and other international soccer stars, even after it was recommended by a judge to help solve the turf issue. Instead, Valcke has offered to meet with team representatives, a meeting which has not yet been scheduled.

Dellinger wrote a letter to Valcke after the most recent refusal to meet with the players. "Soccer is a sport but has no place for the games you and FIFA are playing with the world's best female footballers," Dellinger wrote.

It isn't too late for FIFA to change their minds and switch the turf out for grass. According to turf experts, sod planted in April or May would be ready by the time the tournament starts in June. Grass grown on movable trays could be installed just before the games begin.

However, FIFA must be willing to do so. If they don't have a desire to change the fields, time doesn't play a role at all.

"I think FIFA has made their decision and they are sticking to it," Wambach said last week. "The powers that be, the logistics, the timing - it just may not happen."

The women fighting the hardest battles to perform on this stage, to show their countries they belong with the women in the rest of the world, are once again walking onto an uneven playing field.

The 2015 World Cup begins June 6 in Edmonton, Canada. The U.S. Women play their opening match against Australia on June 8.

Video embedded courtesy of Fox Sports.


Lacey Davis is a senior at the University of Georgia. She is a passionate fan of the Atlanta Braves, Georgia Bulldogs and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @laceyanne_davis​

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