Forbes: FIFA Stumble Under Weight Of Own Pomposity In Women’s World Cup Turf War

Bobby McMahon

Forbes Magazine

Contributorhttp://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbymcmahon/2014/09/14/fifa-stumble-under-weight-of-own-pomposity-in-womens-world-cup-turf-war/

Abby

English: Abby Wambach of the United States Women’s National Soccer team, one of players advocating grass fields (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

FIFA Stumble Under Weight Of Own Pomposity In Women’s World Cup Turf War
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To A Greater Goal” is the slogan for the 2015 Women’s World Cup that will be played in Canada next June and July. The slogan was unveiled in Winnipeg in May of this year just before Canada and the USA played a friendly match. Through the Kremlinesque inspired website FIFA.com, the international body for soccer was quick to offer an official thought on the slogan and the CSA President was riding shotgun.

“The Official Slogan is a core part of the identity of a FIFA competition. TO A GREATER GOAL has a very strong meaning in terms of what the FIFA Women’s World Cup can achieve and leave as a legacy, not only in Canada but also in general for the development of women’s football worldwide,” said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA Deputy Director of the Competitions Division and Head of Women’s Competitions.

“For sport, for women, for Canada: those are three qualities that highlight our ambitions in hosting a successful FIFA Women’s World Cup,” said Victor Montagliani, chairman of the National Organizing Committee and President of the Canadian Soccer Association. “In welcoming the world, the FIFA Women’s World Cup can serve TO A GREATER GOAL. Our Official Slogan serves a dual purpose for the sport and for humanity. It represents the best of on-field performance and a unique victory for all, beginning with girls and women.”

It wasn’t so long again that a logo and a mascot were deemed good enough. Not anymore, now each FIFA tournament has to offer us a better world and a Sepp-approved future. Of course the problem with taking your self that seriously is that the public has a right to hold organizations to their own self-pronounced lofty standards. In other words if you are so full of your own self importance then you had better make sure that you walk the talk.

In the case of next summer’s tournament FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association seem incapable of taking any more than two steps before stumbling and tripping over a hurdle labelled pretentiousness.
It took just a couple of months to show the emptiness of the slogan. Ever since the announcement was made that Canada would host the 2015 event and that games would be played on artificial surfaces players from around the world have been close to unanimous in their condemnation of the chosen playing surface. However, individual complaints were never going to change this FIFA decision and so some of the leading women players then decided to up the ante.

In late July a letter was sent to FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association by lawyers retained by a group of 40 players. The letter took issue with the CSA proposing and FIFA sanctioning the playing of the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial surfaces and threatened a law suit if “your organizations will not engage in a meaningful dialogue on how to correct the discriminatory treatment of women players.”

At the core of the case – or potential case – is the issue of gender discrimination given that the Men’s World Cup has never been played on artificial surfaces and won’t be in the foreseeable future. In fact, the response at previous Men’s World Cups has been to insist on the replacement of artificial surfaces where they existed.

Although a law suit by female ski-jumpers against the IOC ultimately failed just prior to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics the strategists who planned the initial 2015 salvo on behalf of the players will have analysed that case in detail.
For about a month after the letter the silence from both FIFA and the CSA was deafening. Inquiries to the CSA were directed to FIFA and the world governing body would only acknowledge receipt of the letter. But in the last few weeks the temperature has started to rise quicker than you might find on an artificial surface on a July day in Canada.

Acting for the group of women players lawyer Hampton Dellinger announced a couple of weeks ago that reports of intimidation were beginning to surface. In turn Dellinger placed FIFA, tournament organizers and each of the regional confederations on notice that they should be taking steps to ensure that all players felt free to express an opinion without fear of intimidation.

Then there was a response from Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani. President Montagliani felt that allegations of gender discrimination based on the type of field surface missed the target because the CSA spends twice as much on the women’s program than they do on their men’s program. It left many wondering what the connection was but either way the CSA President was reported as being frustrated by it all.

But there is a way that the CSA and its President can bridge the credibility gap when it comes to its position on the type of surface. In the spring of this year the CSA announced that they planned to bid to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2026. The type of surface that they plan to use for the 2026 World Cup should be an easy question to answer.

If the CSA truly believes that artificial surfaces are acceptable for World Cups then in the interests of transparency they should announce now that their bid for 2026 will be based on stadiums having artificial surfaces.
At some point FIFA and the CSA are going to have to concede the right of the women’s position or at the very least negotiate a compromise. The only valid point (and as the post-script indicates it might not be valid) that FIFA can argue is that turf fields were part of the bid and that was what FIFA accepted. But as we have seen on countless occasions FIFA has never been reticent to insist on bid modifications when it suits its purpose.

The actual cost of installing grass fields is probably less than $3M for the duration of the tournament. Redirect a few FIFA receptions over the next two years and the cost will be covered.

An agreement to play future tournaments on the same type surface as men might not be a bad thing either. If FIFA and the CSA continue to defend the indefensible and believe that they call the players bluff then they are going to lose.

With every week that passes the slogan “To A Greater Goal” morphs a bit more and it will soon become “To A Greater Own Goal.”

Post-script

What has not been widely reported is that a perfectly good natural turf field at one of the designated venues for 2015 was ripped up and replaced with an artificial surface.

In May CBC New Brunswick quoted Stéphane Delisle, the venue general manager for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 as saying “The surface is one example of FIFA’s mandate to ensure that we’re offering literally a level and equitable playing field for all of the participants.”

And who paid for the new installation at Moncton Stadium? That $1.5M cost was, according to the report, paid for by FIFA.
But that’s not all. Moncton was one of the four venues for the recently held Women’s Under 20 World Cup. The thing is one of the venues used for the Under 20s was BMO Field in Toronto which is of course, a natural grass surface. So FIFA’s mandate of offering “literally a level and equitable playing field for all of the participants” doesn’t actually extend to under 20 players.

Talk about wanting to suck and blow at the same time!

But that is not all. Moncton seems to be a goldmine of contradictions. How about this quote:

“When we put in the bid and were actually awarded it, they (FIFA) liked the fact that we had natural fields,” said Rod Higgins, general manager of parks and leisure services for the City of Moncton. “Then, a few months later, they had a more detailed evaluation and because the other host cities were artificial, we had to convert our natural fields to artificial so that someone coming out of a certain pool wouldn’t have an advantage or disadvantage.”

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