Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani, Brazilian soccer icon Marta and Shuéme, the new owl mascot for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, to held in Canada. (Carrie Serwetnyk photo)
RIO DE JANEIRO — On my last night in Rio, I met more Canadians than my entire trip. Someone brought a flag to the Fan Fest and we all gravitated there like the space ship in Close Encounters. Only in Canada do we ask each other the question “who are you supporting?” The Italians, French, Argentinians and so on cheer for their own country — they actually qualify for the World Cup.
Rumours of a couple of Canucks running around in spandex bragging “we’re undefeated” was noted.
Speaking of Canada. I went to the Women’s World Cup news conference where we got the chance to meet the new great white owl mascot Shuéme.
I have to admit I was quite skeptical after seeing its image online. I thought whoever created it wouldn’t have a hope of getting into art school. Then the real thing sauntered down the press steps towards the stage and I heard a journalist behind me say “what the f**k is that?” Followed by a few snickers.
Canadian soccer fans including Carrie Serwetnyk celebrate at the Fan Fest in Rio de Janeiro.
At first glance, Shuéme is kind of embarrassing. Is it the new mascot for KFC a la owl? But then it does all these long flamboyant gestures that kind of grows on you in that same way when you see the floats and drag queens go by in the Pride parade. You chuckle. The Women’s World Cup mascot is a transvestite in drag. She swoons and sashes. She would cheer you on for your first bike ride with those big bright eyes. Quite frankly for a women’s world soccer championship I would butch it up a little, if you know what I mean — pump some fists, give the ref the claw. Even Barbie has more attitude. Put it this way, I wouldn’t put her in at centre back. She is weirdly adorable, but you have to get over the initial shock. Oh Canada!
I posed a question to CSA President Victor Montagliani and Brazilian superstar Marta about the controversial turf fields Canada plans to use during the World Cup. U.S. captain Abby Wambach started a petition protesting the decision with over 400 national team athletes around the world who have signed it. The U.S. is considering a lawsuit. Would they contemplate changing the surface to grass? The translated answer was “no.” Marta replied, “There is no difference playing on turf or grass.” Welcome to corporate Marta, or Queen Marta as she is referred to in Brazil. Or as my journalist friend Dave Hogben said, “we know who is buttering her bread.”
To play on natural grass is exquisite, especially when it has been manicured for an international match. The feel and touch of the ball rolling and bouncing takes on a much more velvety texture. The ground is more giving on the legs and slide tackles are not a form of self-inflicted torture. Even warming up and stretching on the ground brings the player back to nature. It does make a difference. It does matter. There are fewer injuries and it gives the athlete a sense of grandeur and joy to be competing on a surface Edward Scissorhands would be proud of. After all, it will be the largest sporting event in history for women.
On a deeper note, girls are used to getting the hand-me-downs. For generations they received the extra equipment or brother’s leftovers. For the most part, they often get the inferior fields and undesirable times — and this is in progressive nations. It’s not surprising the authorities would choose the easy route.
We are setting a tone that women are still not important enough.
The CSA is using the Women’s World Cup as a launching pad to host the men’s World Cup in 2026. With all due respect, there is no way that any men’s national team would agree to play on a turf surface — we all know it. It just wouldn’t happen.
If we look a little deeper, a big chunk of the World Cup budget is geared towards stadium upgrades for the tournament. But we know who normally plays in all of these facilities — you guessed it — male professional sport teams.
The women’s national soccer team is the best soccer product we have going for us in Canada. Females are now 47 per cent of registered player. Male or female, the World Cup is the ultimate dream for a soccer player and they deserve the best surface.
The least they could do is put some grass down for them.
A version of GI Jane a la owl would have it differently.
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Vancouver’s Carrie Serwetnyk is the first female inductee to the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, a former national team member, founder of EqualPlayFC.com and now attending her seventh straight FIFA World Cup. Serwetnyk’s trip to Brazil is sponsored by flightcentre.com and the B.C. Government Employees Union.