- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - U.S. women’s national team forward Abby Wambach says soccer’s international governing body rejected a free offer to put grass fields down for the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Wambach has been a vocal critic of using artificial turf for the World Cup, claiming it amounts to gender discrimination because her male counterparts would never be asked to play soccer’s premier tournament on fake grass.

She led a group of international players who took legal action in Canada last fall in protest of the artificial surface. The claim was dropped earlier this year when the players decided it was best to focus on preparing for the World Cup, which starts on June 6. The monthlong event will be played on artificial turf fields in six Canadian cities.

Wambach first revealed to ESPN this week that a company offered to put grass fields down for free but that FIFA turned it down. FIFA didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment.

On Saturday, while training with the U.S. national team at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium, Wambach said the rejection was a “huge slap in the face” but ultimately a non-starter because FIFA had already made its decision on the issue.

“There’s nothing we could have done. We tried. We tried the legal route and we filed too late and they were just going to stall until the World Cup was over. What’s the point?” she said.

“We’re not going to beat a dead drum. And for me, I don’t want the focus to be on the turf. I want the focus to be on the game, the players, the wins, the ties, the crazy comebacks, whatever it is,” she added.

The artificial turf has been a contentious issue with many players, who have claimed that the surface is less forgiving than natural grass and impacts play because of concerns about injury. They also say balls travel and bounce differently on turf.

But their overriding complaint was one of equity.

A group of some 60 players - including Wambach, U.S. teammate Alex Morgan and Germany’s Nadine Angerer - filed a complaint last fall with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It named FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, and the Canadian Soccer Association. Neither budged in reconsidering the planned surface for the event.

But the complaint did draw attention to the inequity in the sport. Actor Tom Hanks took up the players’ cause, going to Twitter last year to say: “Opinion: Women’s World Cup is the best Soccer of the year. Hey FIFA, they deserve real grass. Put in sod. Hanx.”

FIFA changed its rules in 2004 to allow sanctioned matches on certain artificial surfaces. A few games at the 2010 men’s World Cup in South Africa were played on grass that had been reinforced by artificial fibers.

FIFA rules also state that all matches and practices for the World Cup must be held on the same surface. Canada’s bid for the event stipulated that the final be played on the artificial field at BC Place, which seats 55,000.

Wambach said she’ll continue to speak out on the matter - but only until the competition starts. The U.S. women open World Cup play with a match against Australia on June 8 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The U.S. team was in San Jose on Saturday to prepare for an exhibition match on Sunday against Ireland.

“I’m not going to talk about it once the World Cup starts because I don’t want that to be something I can use as an excuse for any performance that we have or I have,” Wambach said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide