I’m a big soccer fan, of both the men’s and women’s games. I hold season tickets to both my local MLS and NWSL teams, actively watch the National teams whenever possible, and in general follow as much of the game as I have time for. I’ve explained offsides to more people than I have fingers, have brought a whole bevy of friends and co-workers to games, and done my level best to grow the love of the game with whoever I meet.
I’m also a woman in tech, and feminism and sex discrimination are issues that are very close to my heart. I firmly believe that the women that I work with deserve the same opportunities as our male counterparts, and so, too, do the woman players that I cheer on every week.
Lastly, I’m the possessor of a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, although I spent my first 2 years of school in the Mechanical Engineering program. I have a heavy background in pure math, more than a nodding acquaintance with physics and chemistry, and in general, have a great deal of respect and trust in the scientific method.
These three parts of myself, fan, woman, and scientist, are currently at war, however, leaving me unsure who to support, who to condemn, and who to just roll my eyes at.
The Women’s World Cup is coming next year. This year, it’s being hosted in Canada, in venues ranging from Vancouver in British Colombia, to Moncton, New Brunswick, 4 time zones east. The issue at hand is the surface the game is played on. There are two usual surfaces that professional soccer games are played on - grass and field turf (not astroturf, that’s completely different stuff). FIFA has decreed that all the games in a tournament should be played on the same surface. In every senior level tournament before now, that surface has been grass. That will change next year, though, and that is the problem.
The feminist in me agrees with Abby Wambach’s impassioned protests that It’s unfair to expect women to play on a surface that is inferior to those the men are provided with. The sport is not always a welcoming place for women, but to blatantly set the players up with an inferior product is a step beyond anything attempted thus far.
The scientist, though, cannot help but roll her eyes. There is a lot of belief that turf causes more injuries, or is more difficult to recover from, but I have yet to see any scientific research that bears this out, and have read analysis to the contrary. Correlation is not causation, and anecdotal evidence is suspect, especially when prior surfaces, like the afore-mentioned astroturf, were so very different. If the heads of the tournament are also like-minded, and consider the surface not to be inferior, then the players protesting are using a real important issue to protest something that’s not actually a problem, and when there’s so many things that are genuinely worth protesting, that is a huge let down.
The soccer fan just wants a good game. I want to watch the players I love to support, play the game I love to watch, while I scream my fool head off. I am dying of excitement waiting for the privilege of attending a World Cup game in person, next year, and I’m holding out hope that my team will be in one of the groups that plays in Vancouver where I can go see them play.
I can’t say “shut the hell up and play” because in all likelihood the FIFA officials who planned the tournament know that many players believe, and maybe even believe themselves, that turf is inferior, and made the choice to accept Canada’s bid to host the World Cup anyway. Which screams “unfair and sexist!” to me. But the reality is, as a fan, that a consistent surface is more important than a temporary grass surface that would be laid on top of the turf, be easily damaged and look embarrassing. And the scientific reality is, the differences are just that, differences, not inferiorities. There’s no higher risk of injury, and a bit of field-rash is not the difference between a good or bad World Cup.
So, what’s a girl to do?