Women’s World Cup: Canadian stadiums set for new artificial turf

The ruckus over the use of artificial turf at the Women’s World Cup may not have sparked a switch to grass. But it has likely played a part in improving some of the tournament turf.

Changes to the surface at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium had already been announced. B.C. Place Stadium, whose turf drew the ire of German players among others, is also getting a new surface in time for the summer tournament.

The 24-team championship kicks off June 6 in Edmonton and will conclude July 5 in Vancouver. Canada could play as many as six of its seven matches in those two cities if it advances to the final.

The decision to use artificial turf triggered a human rights complaint, subsequently dropped, from a group of elite female players last year.

Don Hardman, chief of stadia for the tournament’s national organizing committee, said changes are being made in Edmonton and Vancouver despite both surfaces meeting FIFA’s 2-Star standards when last tested.

“Not only are we trying to ensure that all the turf across the country meets all the technical specifications but there’s still some intangible qualities that we’d like to ensure are top-notch, whether it’s the player performance and perception of the surface,” Hardman said in an interview. “And also aesthetically how it presents itself to the international TV audience is also key considerations that we’ve tried to address in those two markets.”

The decision was made in Edmonton due to aesthetic concerns over CFL markings showing on the pitch.

There had been player complaints about the Vancouver turf.

“We know that Vancouver is an issue,” Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s head of women’s competitions, said in January of B.C. Place.

Surfaces at stadiums in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton are expected to stay as is although the Canadian Soccer Association will be using its own turf at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. A new pad will be added to cushion the Montreal surface.

The tournament’s national organizing committee kicked off a three-day Football Surface Seminar in Edmonton on Tuesday.

The seminar featured representatives from all six host cities, each of which must also have three approved training pitches. All 24 pitches will go through a recertification process in May.

While all the surfaces have to meet FIFA’s standards, they can come from different manufacturers. Hardman says they will look and feel the same.

Hardman says work on the new Edmonton surface could start in the next two to three weeks. It will take 14 to 20 days to replace the pitch.

“In Vancouver we’ve got a little bit shorter window but being indoors does help. And there is an opening in May within the MLS schedule that is our opportunity to replace the turf in advance of kicking of there.”

Both sets of new turf will have eight- to 10-year life cycles.

Cost of the new surfaces is being handled by the Canadian Soccer Association, the city of Edmonton and B.C. Pavilion Corporation