WWC turf highlights uneven playing surface 

click to enlarge SERGEI BACHLAKOV / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 21, 2015: Canadian fans arrive to BC Place Stadium for FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 matches in Vancouver, Canada, on June 21, 2015.
  • Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock.com
  • VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 21, 2015: Canadian fans arrive to BC Place Stadium for FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 matches in Vancouver, Canada, on June 21, 2015.

I, unfortunately, haven't been able to make it down to any of the FIFA Women's World Cup action taking place in Vancouver yet.

But last spring, I got a sneak preview at Winnipeg's Investors Group Stadium during a friendly between the Canadians and the USA. Over 28,000 screaming fans packed the home of the CFL's Blue Bombers that night. At the risk of sounding patronizing, the match was a thrilling 1-1 draw in which the Canadians bent, but never broke, in the face of a punishing American attack. Even in a contest that meant little in the chase for ultimate glory, it was clear players on both sides were going all-out for a win.

It shouldn't have to be said, but in a world where "WNBA" has been used as a cheap all-purpose punchline for "boring" or "slow" or "why does this exist?" for its two decades of existence, then, yeah, I feel it's relevant to point out I had a great time at a major women's sporting event.

There's been plenty of clamour about FIFA's decision to award Canada this year's event when no previous World Cup — men's or women's — had been played on artificial turf. At the time Canada's bid was accepted, only three stadiums with a capacity over 10,000 had natural grass. One, in Moncton, was converted to artificial turf in order to host the tournament.

Players say the surface is inferior and even more dangerous, and several of the top women in the world like Brazil's Marta and the USA's Abby Wambach filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario last year (the players dropped the case in January). Some reports have said the surface has heated to the point where some players have found their footwear melting.

"I am hopeful that the players' willingness to contest the unequal playing fields — and the tremendous public support we received during the effort — marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women's sports," Wambach said in a statement after dropping the case.

It really is just the start. In a BBC Sport study conducted last year, 30 per cent of sports with prizes studied paid men a higher amount for a win — though that number was lower than I initially expected. While some of the numbers were fairly marginal differences, some male athletes or teams received greater prizes by factors of up to 53 (for the Cricket World Cup).

The men's FIFA World Cup champions earn a winner's share about 35 times larger than the women. The one event on the list where men could have a case to complain is at Wimbledon, where equal prize money is awarded though men play five-set matches and women only three.

Some argue it should be a market-based decision. After all, if the sponsorship is heavily tilted in favour of a men's event where there's also a women's event, shouldn't the men also receive the heftier share?

If the business perspective is going to be invoked, that's a short-term view. Any business worth its salt is going to try to make all of its products as strong as possible in hopes that the less popular product can make gains. FIFA is competing against itself a bit at the moment, as the Women's World Cup is up against its under-20 men's event, but this type of situation could easily be avoided with better scheduling.

According to Business Insider, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil turned a profit of $2.6 billion. It's unlikely the women's equivalent will generate revenue to that same extent, but pumping even a couple of percentage points of that men's cash to the women's event could work wonders to boost the event and, at the very least, further help it stand on its own.

Even with ostensibly the same playing surface (literally), though, there can be obvious disparity. A recent article on otherhalfsports.com detailed challenges women rugby players in the United States face compared to their male counterparts. Rugby sevens set to make its Olympic debut next summer in Brazil.

Being a relatively niche sport, especially in North America, should allow for a fairly fresh slate to promote both the men's and women's rugby sides on this continent. Yet men receive the lion's share of the airtime.

Hell, even at this year's Collegiate Rugby Championships, on the event's final day, men's teams received all four of the on-site dressing rooms and the women's teams had to forgo showering before their seven-hour bus ride home, according to the article.

Men's sports are generally pretty well entrenched and will likely never be overtaken by women's sports in terms of popularity. In a column breaking down arguments against equal prize money on irunfar.com in 2013, Vanessa Runs conceded men are stronger and faster. But she also reasoned there are still plenty of reasons to watch others.

"(S)maller athletes use different tactics and techniques than larger ones, but that doesn't make them any less athletic, gifted or entertaining," she wrote.

In my dealings here in Whistler thus far, there's generally seemed to be a positive attitude with applause at awards ceremonies just as loud for women as for men.

Here's hoping that this attitude from the resort starts to spread elsewhere.


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