FIFA official says there is no Plan B to avoid playing Women’s World Cup on turf

By Neil Davidson


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TORONTO _ Despite the threat of a lawsuit from top players, there is no Plan B beyond playing the 2015 Women’s World Cup of soccer on artificial turf.

“Currently no,” Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s deputy director of the competitions division and head of women’s competitions, said Tuesday in an interview from Ottawa.

“We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.”

A group of top female players has threatened to file a lawsuit over the turf, saying it is discrimination since men would never play their World Cup on artificial turf.

In response, FIFA has retained an independent consultant to examine the playing surface at venues in Ottawa, Moncton, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Asked why a consultant had been retained, if there were no plans to change the surface, Haenni said: “The quality of the turf is of concern to many people.

“As you know there’s different type of turf. There’s older ones, newer ones, and you can categorize them based on some testing. And I think for all of us, including the NOC (National Organization Committee) the Canadian Soccer Association, it will be helpful if we can say _ proven let’s say by an independent company _ what kind of turf and quality it is.”

The consultant is accompanying a FIFA delegation that began its cross-country tournament inspection tour Tuesday in Ottawa.

Peter Montopoli, CSA general secretary and CEO of the National Organizing Committee, said the consultant was familiar with Canada because he had done a similar turf survey ahead of the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup in Canada.

“It’s been done before and it’s a natural part of testing to review the pitches that are in play,” Montopoli said.

Haenni, a former Swiss international, says playing on approved artificial turf is part of the game.

“It’s in the competition regulations and in the laws of the game that artificial turf can be used for any international match including FIFA World Cup qualifiers and has been used for such matches,” Haenni said. “So that’s really no big discussion. It’s not about artificial turf yes or no, it’s just about what has to be in place is the quality.”

The group of players threatening legal action includes U.S. stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, Germany’s FIFA player of the year Nadine Angerer and Spain’s Veronica Boquete.

Their campaign has drawn support from the likes of actor Tom Hanks, with NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant tweeting in support of the players.

Haenni called it “really unfortunate” that so many of the pre-tournament headlines were about the playing surface controversy.

“It’s a pity that all those supporting stories about women’s football and women in football have been lost at the moment, currently. But I’m convinced one day FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association will be able to move on and put all those success stories and all those, let’s say, wonderful things we can achieve with the FIFA Women’s World Cup together next year more onto the media map.”

Haenni said she never played on artificial turf during her career.

“Didn’t exist at that time,” she said. “I’m older than I look.”

Asked if she had any sympathy for the women protesting the use of an artificial surface, she said she respected others’ opinions “but it’s really not up to me to put my personal opinion on any spotlight.”

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