Enough is enough. The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) is currently one of the most successful soccer teams to ever represent the United States of America. Just this past summer, the USWNT went on to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup after knocking off top-ranked teams such as Germany and Japan. They’ve taken the gold medal in soccer in the last three Olympic games (2004, 2008, 2012) and they’re primed to make another serious run in 2016. Yet, for some reason, on their most recent victory tour to celebrate winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the women were forced to play eight of their ten matches on artificial turf.
Now, there are a lot of people who won’t understand what the big deal is about playing that many games on turf. After all, doesn’t everyone make it seem as if artificial turf is a good thing? Unfortunately, athletes are at a much higher risk for injury when playing games on artificial turf compared to natural grass. This past World Cup, all games were played on artificial turf. On a 75-degree day in Edmonton, the surface temperature of the turf reached nearly 120 degrees.
Additionally, since the artificial turf is made of a combination of rubber and plastic, players suffer serious rug burns on their legs when sliding on the turf to make a play or when falling to the surface. This past Sunday, USWNT forward Tobin Heath suffered a serious rug burn on her leg after sliding on the turf to attempt to steal the ball from an opponent. Heath had to be removed from the game until the bleeding on her leg subsided and she was able to run with the injury. In total, Tobin Heath left the game for over 17 minutes.
I know what you’re thinking. Why is this a problem? I mean, if everybody is playing on the artificial turf, then everyone has the same disadvantages, right? But there lies the problem. The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has played over 30 matches in the U.S. over the last two years. 100% of those matches have been played on natural grass. In that same time frame, the USWNT has played over 30 matches in the U.S. as well. Less than 70% of those matches have been played on natural grass.
So why does it matter whether it’s men or women playing the game? The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) oversees the playing conditions for both the USWNT and the USMNT. So why aren’t the regulations the same? Claims of sexism and discrimination have long been a theory and it’s not hard to see why. The USSF sends a representative to each stadium the USMNT plays at to check the field conditions and make sure they are safe for the athletes. However, the USSF does no such thing for the USWNT.
Most recently, the USWNT cancelled one of the matches on their victory tour after examining the field conditions the day before the match and realizing the field was unplayable. In a team-issued statement, the women made fans aware of their reasons for cancelling the game. “There were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field. They were everywhere. The artificial turf was actually pulling up out of the ground, and the turf itself was both low-grade and aging. This was a playing surface that looked like it hadn’t been replaced in years.”
Star striker Alex Morgan spared no words when talking about the cancelation of the team’s victory tour match. In an interview with Laura Vecsey of Fox Sports, Alex Morgan took a direct shot at the organization she plays for by saying, “Obviously we want to play in front of these fans and we want to train before the game, but injuries happen when you don’t protect yourself and when you’re not protected from those higher up from you.”
So what’s next? Where does the USWNT go from here? As far as women’s soccer goes, there’s not a bigger name and a bigger star than Alex Morgan. At 26-years-old, she’s already become the face of the team and has stepped up into the role of team leader with Abby Wambach retiring. When a player of Morgan’s stature speaks out about an issue like this, there’s no doubt that something needs to be done and this one’s pretty simple. Women need to have the same regulations as men when it comes to field conditions. Stop making excuses. Start making change.