The 2015 Women's World Cup is set to be played on artificial turf in five of the six stadiums used for the event in Canada, and reigning World Player of the Year Abby Wambach of the U.S. is one of several players hoping there's enough time to change FIFA's mind and get grass fields for the sport's marquee event.
"For me, the first thought is disappointment," Wambach said of the recent FIFA announcement. "I'm feeling like this is the women's game taking a step back."
Wambach and her teammates received a survey from FIFA during the recent Algarve Cup asking them questions about their preferred artificial turf surfaces. But the answer, she said, is none of the above. Wambach is one of several U.S. players (including Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd) who has taken to Twitter to register her dissatisfaction with FIFA's decision. With slightly more than two years to go before the 2015 World Cup, Wambach thinks there's enough time to make a difference.
"All we really ask for is to be heard," she said. "We believe this is a shame not only for the players but for the fans. The game plays differently on artificial surface, not only because of fear of injury but because it's a different surface. You can also talk about it being a gender discrimination issue. Would they ever let the men's World Cup be played on an artificial surface?"
FIFA has approved some forms of artificial turf, but grass fields have been a constant as World Cups. While Wambach is cognizant that natural grass vs. artificial turf could be a financial issue for organizers, she said she wants to mobilize the top women's players from around the world and put together a thoughtful plan that would involve FIFA, the host Canadians and other participating federations.
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"You have to get the big names across the world, the Homare Sawas and Alex Morgans and Lotta Schelins," she said. "A bunch of us on our team have spoken to each other about it. But thoughts only go so far. We have to start putting our words into action."
Wambach points out that Thierry Henry refuses to play on most artificial surfaces in MLS -- including the one in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, a World Cup '15 venue -- and argues that none of the top men's stars would agree to play on the fake stuff at such an important tournament.
How far is Wambach going to go in this fight?
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes," she said. "There are standards of the game that FIFA governs and promises to uphold. I think [a World Cup with artificial turf] would be a travesty and a nightmare for all of us."
Wambach and the U.S. women meet Germany on Friday in Offenbach (12:15 p.m. ET, ESPNW/3) and the Netherlands on April 9 at The Hague before returning to the U.S. to start the NWSL season. Wambach is currently on 154 career international goals, four behind the all-time record 158 set by Mia Hamm.
? We already knew Manchester City and Chelsea are playing a friendly in St. Louis on May 23, but what has yet to be announced is the two Premier League giants will play a second game as well at Yankee Stadium in New York City on May 25. It's on the same day as the Champions League final, and the plan is for the Champions League final to be shown on video screens in Yankee Stadium before the friendly. If all goes well with Man City-Chelsea, the idea is to continue holding two such friendlies every year at the end of the club season in the U.S. between teams that know each other well.
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