The only “even playing field” for female soccer players is the flatness of the turf fields at the Women’s World Cup.
The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) plans to host the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada on artificial turf as opposed to natural grass. With this decision, many female athletes have scrutinized FIFA for a supposed violation of Canada’s gender discrimination laws, according to ESPN.
Professionals in sports medicine also disagree with this decision; players will be more prone to surface wounds and knee injuries.
Many high profile women’s soccer players filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and attempted to expedite a hearing before the start of the tournament on June 6. Plaintiffs withdrew the lawsuit and the CSA rejected a proposal for mediation, according to NPR.
In its defense, the CSA argues that this plan was rooted in availability and monetary concerns, not gender discrimination. FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke called discrimination claims, “nonsense.”
To whom it may concern:
After hearing about field conditions for the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2015, I was initially distraught at the blatantly discriminatory decision that would demean the integrity of female athletes.
Even if there was no discriminatory intent from FIFA’s angle, this decision proves that female subjugation is so socially embedded that we fail to recognize an instance of discrimination when we see it.
FIFA budgeted nearly $2 billion for the Men’s World Cup of 2014. For the Women’s Word Cup this year, only $60 million was budgeted. The difference between the two is estimated at $1.94 billion.
You would expect that with such a large budgetary gap that there would be a reciprocal gap in viewership — this is not the case.
According to ESPN News, the most watched Men’s World Cup game was in 2014, allotting 18.2 million viewers. The most watched Women’s World Cup game in 1999 garnered 18.0 million viewers.
Does the difference of 200,000 viewers necessitate a $1.94 billon disparity?
Turf is composed of synthetic fibers and ground-up tire pellets, informally known as “tire crumbs.”
According to ESPN News, turf fields are “less forgiving than natural grass and impacts play because of concerns over injury.”
Along with injury concerns, players are hesitant to play to their full capacity.
“I put more effort in on regular grass because I am not afraid to fall and hurt myself,” said Varsity Soccer player Erica Dick ’18. “I am way more wary of injury on turf.”
U.S. Women’s National Team player Heather O’Reilly shares a similar sentiment: “Slide tackling on grass – you know, you get up, you shake the grass off, get the dirt off. On turf unfortunately, a little layer of your skin comes up with every slide tackle so you get turf burns,” she said on NPR.
In senior World Cup history, games have never been held on artificial turf for neither men nor women, according to FIFA’s history of artificial turf. The upcoming Women’s World Cup marks the first all-turf games.
Such a dilemma would never impact the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“The thought of it being played in the [Men’s] World Cup is almost laughable,” O’Reilly also said in the interview with NPR.
“The ball moves faster when played on turf because it’s so even,” Varsity Soccer captain Hillary O’Connor ’15 said. “It’s just a completely different game.”
Despite resistance from professional female athletes, “tournament organizers had been adamant that the games will be played on artificial turf, refusing to negotiate or compromise,” according to NPR.
The turf fields for the Women’s World Cup will remain. However, this travesty will continue to torment the female players forced to play under these conditions. This is not a matter of availability; this is a matter of inequality and unfair treatment.
While FIFA is the primary offender in this case, the CSA is perpetuating inequality by remaining apathetic.
Had the World Cup taken place on natural grass, albeit a more costly choice, it would indicate that female soccer players are held to the same standards as male soccer players. The CSA and FIFA openly degrade these women by not placing them on an “even playing field.”