Turf Dispute Divides U.S. Soccer, WNT

Natural grass will be the playing surface for U.S. WNT vs Republic of Korea Oct. 22. in Cary. It’s a 2 p.m. friendly on natural grass at Wake Med Soccer Park’s Sahlen Stadium. Natural grass is the preferred surface for WNT players.

The New York Times reported last month that after a new collective bargaining agreement was approved just a few months ago the federation and players are at odds again over an old grievance: artificial turf.

“Many of the players see artificial turf as inferior to natural grass, both for playing quality and safety, and the issue particularly rankles at the international level, where top wom­en’s players—including members of the American team sued unsuccessfully to have turf fields replaced by grass at the 2015 Wom­en’s World Cup.
“That, along with disagreements about wages, is why the national team filed a workplace discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016, a case that remains unresolved.

“Language in the collective bargaining agreement specifies only the ‘health and safe­ty of the players as an important factor in the federation’s selection of facilities’ and that ‘the federation prefers to play games on natural grass.’ The players are accusing U.S. Soccer of ignoring that understanding and of making scheduling decisions without fair consideration of the team’s input and concerns. The un­happiness also has revived long-simmering complaints about fairness, respect and equal treatment with the men’s national team.

“‘We do understand that we can’t—or the federation is unwilling to—put every single game of ours on grass,’ midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. ‘But the expectation is that wherever we can, and with their best efforts, they will try to put us on grass. We feel that it’s not their top priority to put us on grass, so they don’t.’

“‘The federation has agreed with the players association that turf is not the preferred playing surface, and yet still the WNT plays on turf far more than the MNT, including three of our final six games this year,’ Becky Sauerbrunn, a team co-captain, said in an email, referring to the women’s team and the men’s team. ‘It is a stark disparity in working conditions, and one of the many issues we hope to remedy through our pending EEOC charges.’

US MNT has played only one home match on artificial turf since the start of 2014.

Locally, UNC is building 11 new athletic fields. Several will have a synthetic turf playing surface.

Bob Conroy contributed to this report.