Former FIFA women’s world player of the year Nadine Angerer has lent her voice to the continued choir lamenting the artificial turf surfaces being used at the Women’s World Cup in Canada.
“It’s hard to reach the balls as you never know how they will bounce,” Angerer said. “Both teams have the same problem, but of course it affects the game.”
It’s one of those quotes that don’t serve the TurfGaters well. For one thing, you never know how a ball will bounce on grass either, and Angerer plays on FieldTurf — the surface used for World Cup — at her club (Portland Thorns).
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And it’s led Sportsnet writer Donnovan Bennett to type up a sprawling critique of those like Wambach still citing the turf. Bennett calls out Wambach’s character in regards to her comments that she’s “more carefree” on grass, and there’s something to it. If Wambach, who plays on turf a lot, is thinking about the turf during games, is she growing her own monster?
Bennett also points to Germany midfielder Melanie Behringer’s comments that, “We have demonstrated that you can score, so I don’t want to make this all about the turf. The ball acts differently, flies differently. But of course you can score.”
The gender issues we should be examining are why there was only one bid for the Women’s World Cup in the first place, while the last three men’s World Cups are so lucrative they are suspected to be the subjects of bribery scandals. The fact that only one country that was willing to take the women’s tournament on was up front about its plans of playing on turf is not a gender issue. It’s a supply and demand issue.
Field turf is a surface all North American players are accustomed to—the way turf plays isn’t a surprise for the U.S. women coming into this tournament. Stylistically the USA has looked to play long balls more than their opponents and the chief target woman has been Wambach. The turf has less bearing on their style of play. The U.S. also has considerable more top quality depth than most competing nations. A tournament of attrition plays to their strength. You could make an argument that they should be the last team to complain about the turf because it caters to their intrinsic advantages.
Put aside for a second the major issue of TurfGate: that a men’s World Cup won’t be played on artificial turf any time soon. Also put aside that FIFA made some horrific and archaic threats against some of the women’s players involved in a lawsuit regarding turf at the World Cup.
Digesting that there’s no question there are fundamental and unsavory issues here, and acknowledging the inequality, does Bennett make valid claims? And is Wambach, who said she would drop the issue before the tournament, hurting herself and perhaps the psyche of her team?
There will be plenty of time to rally against the turf issue as an ambassador for future World Cups, but nothing’s getting changed in the next three weeks. Wambach just scored a gorgeous half-volley off turf, so let’s hope she mentally build on that.