Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman: FIFA takes heat for planning to use turf in Women’s World Cup

FIFA gets two thumbs up and two thumbs down this week.

First, the thumbs down, for planning to stage the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf in Canada. They would never dream of hosting a men’s World Cup on anything but real grass, which is much safer and popular with players, so why is it OK to force the world’s top women to play on a dangerous, second-class surface?

Why should Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan face a greater risk of injury than Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley?

They shouldn’t, and they are fighting back. More than 40 of the world’s elite players have hired a law firm and are considering filing a gender-discrimination suit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.

They are getting support from some high-profile fans, such as Kobe Bryant, Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Durant, Tim Howard and Tom Hanks, all of whom have made public statements and tweeted on the subject.

Bryant posted a photo of U.S. player Sydney LeRoux’s scraped-up legs, covered in cuts and bruises, with the hashtags “protect the athlete” and “USWNT” (U.S. Women’s National Team). Hanks tweeted: “Opinion: Women’s World Cup is the best Soccer of the year. Hey FIFA, they deserve real grass. Put in sod. Hanx.”

The law firms of Boies, Schiller & Flexner and Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt are representing the players. They wrote a letter to FIFA and the CSA, saying that playing the World Cup on turf “is gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law, including human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

A Toronto Sun story said FIFA president Sepp Blatter dismissed concerns over the artificial surface, noting turf technology has come a long way in recent years. He said FieldTurf, which is what would be used, complies with FIFA standards for safety and performance.

CSA president Victor Montagliani, in published reports, called the charge of discrimination “nothing but misinformation and typical hyperbole.”

Wambach strongly disagrees. “We have to stand up and put our foot down, and say, ‘You know what? This isn’t good enough. This isn’t right. And we deserve to be treated equally as the men,” she said.

FIFA has agreed to send an independent team to Canada to examine and test the fields.

Canada’s bid for the event was based on the final being played at Vancouver’s BC Place, which seats 55,000 and has artificial turf

Among the players listed in the potential lawsuit: Wambach, Morgan, and FIFA Player of the Year Nadine Angerer of Germany. The 2015 Women’s World Cup is scheduled to be played June6-July5, 2015.

Here’s hoping FIFA comes to its senses and lays some grass down over that turf.

The soccer world governing body does seem to finally be getting a little smarter about head injuries.

FIFA gets thumbs up for proposing a change in how it evaluates head injuries and possible concussions during games, calling for a referee to order a three-minute stoppage to determine whether a player is suspected of having a concussion. A team doctor would quickly evaluate the player and decide whether the player could continue playing.

“The incidents at the World Cup have shown that the role of team doctors needs to be reinforced in order to ensure the correct management of potential cases of concussion in the heat of the competition,” FIFA said in a news release. “The referee will only allow the injured party to continue playing with the [authorization] of the team doctor, who will have the final decision.”

The proposal was sent to the FIFA Executive Committee, which will vote on the matter.

The issue came to the forefront during the World Cup in Brazil. On the sport’s biggest stage, Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira was allowed to continue playing after taking a knee to the head and looking quite woozy. Then, during the final, German midfielder Christoph Kramer was allowed to play for 14 minutes after a collision that left him confused to the point that he asked the referee if the game they were playing was the final.

Taylor Twellman, a former U.S. and MLS player now working for ESPN, doesn’t think the FIFA proposal is strong enough. “I don’t see how it addresses anything,” he said. “At the highest playing levels there should be a neutral doctor on the field. A team doctor will do what’s in the best interest of the team and coach, not always the player.”

He makes a valid point. Whereas the FIFA proposal certainly isn’t perfect, it’s good to know the very important topic is on the table and being debated.


Jozy Altidore scored for Sunderland in the 16th minute against Stoke City, his first club goal since Dec.4, 2013, a stretch of 293 days. Altidore has been struggling, playing just 53 minutes this season as a substitute. Last season, he played 40 matches and scored two goals. His bad luck continued at the World Cup, when he was injured 20 minutes into the U.S. team’s opening game against Ghana.

Who’s leading

MLS: East — DC (48), Kansas City (45), New England (42). West — Seattle and LA (54), Salt Lake (49).

NASL: Minnesota (24), San Antonio (22), Edmonton (18), Carolina, Tampa Bay and New York (16).

English Premier League: Chelsea (13), Southampton and Aston Villa (10), Arsenal and Swansea City (9).

French Ligue 1: Marseille (16) Bordeaux and ASSE (14), PSG (13), Lille (12).

Serie A: Juventus and Roma (12), Udinese (9), Inter and Sampdoria (8).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (11), Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover (10), Mainz and Hoffenheim (9).

La Liga: Valencia (13), Barcelona, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid (11), Real Madrid (9).

On the Tube

Sunday: Cesena vs. Milan (9 a.m., BeINSport USA), West Brom vs. Burnley (11 a.m., NBCSN), Houston vs. Chicago (3 p.m., Univision), LA vs. New York (8:30 p.m., ESPN2).