Maybe you think that every soccer match should be played on natural grass, or you can deal with temporary grass over turf, or you have no issues with matches over artificial turf. Reasonable minds can disagree on that point, and in the wake of the United States canceling their friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in Honolulu, Hawaii because of atrocious field conditions, there's no doubt that discussion will be taken up. But that's because you can have a fair and legitimate discussion on it.
You cannot have a fair and legitimate discussion on sexism, and that's what U.S. Soccer is engaging in with their playing surface choices for women's national team. You know, the World Cup champion women.
After the U.S. won the World Cup, U.S. Soccer scheduled 10 friendlies through the rest of the year -- dubbed The Victory Tour. It was a great way to capitalize on the buzz around the team in the wake of their run to the world championship, grow the team's fan base and cash some very large checks. But in doing so, U.S. Soccer put eight of the 10 matches on artificial turf.
Again, maybe you're fine with artificial turf. And that's perfectly legitimate. But U.S. Soccer isn't, or at least they aren't for the men. The men played 20 matches in 2015, 19 of which were organized by U.S. Soccer or COCNACAF and they had a modicum of control over, and 15 of them were played in stadiums with natural grass surfaces. The other five, in stadiums with turf, saw natural grass laid down over the turf so Jurgen Klinsmann's team played exclusively on grass this season, by U.S. Soccer's choice.
It's abundantly clear that U.S. Soccer prefers grass, and in the case of the men they demand it. That is what they believe to be the superior surface and they will go to whatever lengths necessary to ensure the men play on it. Only, U.S. Soccer doesn't do that for the women.
U.S. Soccer doesn't just occasionally subject the women to turf as an unfortunate response to unideal and unpreventable circumstances. They schedule matches for the women on turf time and time again, seemingly without any concern for the team. At the very least, without anywhere near the concern that they show the men. U.S. Soccer has shown us what they think is best, and what is the acceptable for the men, and have not applied it to the women.
Moreover, U.S. Soccer doesn't even take the time to vet the venues that they subject the women to. The venues that they do pick are done so blindly, according to Julie Foudy.
I'm being told for men's team a rep flies to venue months in advance & no @ussoccer rep inspected this Hawaii field. #USWNT— Julie Foudy (@JulieFoudy) December 6, 2015
There is an entire protocol in place to make sure that the men are playing in quality venues, but no such practice exists for the women. U.S. Soccer told Foudy that they are working on establishing such a protocol and it will theoretically come eventually.
The disparity between the way U.S. Soccer treats the men and the way they treat the women is clear as day. And this isn't just a matter of economic equality or the way the two teams are presented. This is about how seriously they take the quality of play and health of the players.
We've reached a point where the women's team has to consider boycotting matches to stand up for themselves and ensure their matches are being played on safe surfaces. They have to do that because nobody else is doing so, with U.S. Soccer subjecting them to not just surfaces that they would never subject the men to, but the worst of those surfaces.
The Women's World Cup was played on turf, much to the players' dismay. It was characterized as a debate of surface, but that masked the true issue at hand -- equality and the way we view and treat women's soccer. Blame for that was heaped upon the FIFA, an easy target. Canada was blamed, despite being the only country that bid to host the tournament. But there isn't an evil, foreign boogyman to blame this on. This one isn't just close to home, it is home, and perpetuated by the United States' own soccer governing body. They're the ones telling the women that they don't get what the men do, or close to it.
Argue all you want about turf or grass, even temporary grass. But that discussion isn't this discussion. This discussion is about sexism, and it's blatant. U.S. Soccer treats their men's team one way and the women another. Things won't always be exactly the same, as there are differences in the men's and women's game, not to mention the economic realities of the two, but that can't explain everything away. It doesn't explain this away.
U.S. Soccer has set a standard. But it's a standard that only applies to the men, and the women, well, they're on their own.