American Abby Wambach's World Cup gripe off base | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerAmerican Abby Wambach's World Cup gripe off base

Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 | 09:06 PM

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Soccer great Abby Wambach has always tried to tip the scales in the U.S.'s favour – on and off the pitch. (Simon Hofmann/Getty Images)
Soccer great Abby Wambach has always tried to tip the scales in the U.S.'s favour – on and off the pitch. (Simon Hofmann/Getty Images)

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Soccer great Abby Wambach's critical comments on the 2015 World Cup in Canada being played on turf rather than natural grass shows the 32-year-old will go at great lengths at tipping the scale in the U.S.'s favour, writes CBCSports.ca blogger Ben Rycroft.
Legacy is a tricky word. At its root, what it's about is reputation. It's often spoken how aging players, towards the end of their careers, are trying to carve out a legacy -- to leave something behind, for which they'll be remembered.

Abby Wambach, the American player who was the 2012 FIFA women's player of the year, is at such a point.

Last week, the 32-year-old made a very public case for ensuring natural grass fields are a requirement at all women's World Cups. Of course, this was directed very squarely at Canada's 2015 World Cup - of which none of the fields will have grass. The shrewd competitor she is, Wambach evoked all sorts of emotions by directly comparing the competition to the men's game, and rightly pointing out that there is an inequality there.

FIFA requires a grass surface for all senior men's World Cup games. On the youth and women's levels, it allows games to be played on turf. Or, what many players consider, an inferior playing surface and one that has been known to play havoc on the health of veterans.

The problem is, as it is with most legacies, they're less about leaving something behind for the next generation and more about ensuring that the player sees themselves remembered in a favourable light

Shrewd Wambach

As one of the most senior players, likely playing in her last World Cup, on a quickly aging team, Wambach is doing what she has always done -- trying to tip the odds in her favour, and give her squad another chance at hardware.

Most in Canada will remember how she managed to get into the head of Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen during the Olympic semifinal. For those who have blocked out the memory, with Canada leading and time winding down, Wambach essentially bullied an inexperienced ref into making a poor decision, which led directly to the tying goal.

And you know what, all the power to her. It's that cutthroat attitude that has made her and the U.S. women's team the best for a generation. However, that kind of gamesmanship shouldn't be allowed to cloud the issue now.

Next week, FIFA will be in Canada to begin its assessment of the 2015 facilities. This will no doubt stir up a fresh round of criticism about the use of turf. During that time, it would benefit some of those critics to look beyond the simple storyline of inequality and delve a little more deeply into what this World Cup will actually mean to the game in Canada.

You see, long before the Canadian Soccer Association even tabled a bid to host in 2015, there were plans being put in place for a legacy beyond the World Cup. Not for the benefit of aging players, of course, but for the next generation of players in Canada.

Canadian infrastructure

As part of their bid to host the World Cup, the CSA realized this was an opportunity to help rebuild major gaps in the Canadian soccer infrastructure -- namely grass and turf pitches across the country. With the assistance of federal, provincial and municipal funding, the organization made it part of its bid to FIFA that facilities would be built across Canada, for not just budding professionals, but young players everywhere here.

What most do not know is that while there are few professional natural grass fields in Canada, Toronto remains the only city with professional standard training facilities within close proximity of the main fixture site.

That often can contribute to the decision of where World Cup qualifying games get played, as well as where international events are held. Vancouver and Montreal are in the process of building similar setups, but outside of that, there isn't a wealth of professional-supported environments for young players to cut their teeth. Or, in the case of hosting international games, for visiting countries to get in pre-game preparations on FIFA standard facilities.

It is expected that by 2015, there will be a number of revamped or newly built sites in each of the hosting cities, to help support the World Cup. After the banners are torn down and the flags packed away, the facilities will then be made available for community use.

Money hard to come by

As Wambach suggests, the CSA could spend the $250,000 it costs for a 10-day temporary inlay of grass. Spread out over six facilities, that adds up to a whopping $4.5 million for one month of play. In a country where soccer money is hard to come by, that kind of temporary solution hardly seems worth it.

And at the root of this, it bears remembering that Abby Wambach is an athlete, not an activist. Her charges of inequality while just, ring hollow coming from the player who has always been great at finding that extra competitive edge.

There will absolutely be legacy left following the 2015 World Cup, and it's one that will see a brighter future for young Canadian players.

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