The U.S. women’s team, writing for The Players’ Tribune, explains its “heartbreaking” decision to cancel Sunday’s game (Dec. 6) against Trinidad & Tobago.
As the players describe it — and no one disputes their account — the field at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu was barely fit for a tractor pull, much less an international soccer match. The artificial turf was pulling apart at its seams. There were jagged rocks in it. To play under such conditions would have posed safety risks to the athletes on both teams.
Fifteen-thousand people had tickets to the game, Team USA’s first in Hawaii. They’ll get refunds, but that’s little consolation, especially to younger fans who had hoped to see the World Cup heroes in action. A live broadcast on Fox Sports 1 had to be dumped at the 11th hour.
It was the second reversal for the American women in as many days. On Saturday (Dec. 5), they learned that Megan Rapinoe is out for months, having torn up her a knee during a team scrimmage at the University of Hawaii. The gifted midfielder will almost surely miss next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Though no one is saying so directly, the sentiment among Rapinoe’s teammates seems to be that crappy field conditions at the training site — distinct from the crappy field conditions at Aloha Stadium — caused or contributed to her injury. Rapinoe tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in what was described by U.S. Soccer as a “noncontact injury.”
“The training grounds that we were given and the playing surface of the stadium were horrible,” a livid Alex Morgan told Fox Sports.
She added: “Injuries happen when you don’t protect yourself and when you’re not protected from those higher up from you.”
The team’s Players’ Tribune entry said: “Megan’s injury took place while playing on a subpar training field. The grass on the training pitch itself was in bad shape. All along the pitch, sewer plates and plastic coverings were laying on the sidelines.”
Coach Jill Ellis, who saw Rapinoe go down, said the injury occurred near where those sewer plates and other hunks of debris were strewn about.
” Did she catch one of those? I don’t know,” Ellis told Fox Sports.
Unlike the fake-turf controversy at this summer’s World Cup, the Hawaiian field fiasco can’t be blamed on some shadowy, faraway villain: FIFA.
Sepp Blatter didn’t organize the U.S. women’s Victory Tour. U.S. Soccer did. Blatter didn’t choose the venues. U.S. Soccer did.
The American federation has an undeniable duty to safeguard its players — its employees. In this case, the federation failed miserably in the exercise of that duty.
“We screwed up,” Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said. “It won’t happen again.”
On Tuesday (Dec. 8), Gulati apologized to fans and the team for “a series of mistakes” by his federation. Sunday’s cancellation, he said, was “absolutely a black eye for this organization.’
Foremost among the mistakes: No one from U.S. Soccer bothered to look at the field at Aloha Stadium until a few days before the scheduled match — even though the federation’s protocol is to inspect new sites well in advance of a national team match.
By the time everyone realized that the turf was unplayable, it was too late to do anything about it, other than call off the game.
At a minimum, the players have a right to expect a workplace that meets basic, TTuniversally accepted safety standards.
You wouldn’t put them on a chartered plane that wasn’t mechanically sound.
You wouldn’t let them board a team bus if you saw the driver stumbling out of a tavern with bloodshot eyes and a tumbler of Early Times in his hand.
You wouldn’t hire a witch doctor as the team physician.
You wouldn’t do any of those things. Just like you wouldn’t send professional athletes onto a field in such poor shape that a single misstep could leave them on crutches for the next eight months — or, worse, could end a career.
“Soccer is our job,” the U.S. women wrote. “Our bodies are our jobs.”
Gulati says it won’t happen again. I don’t see much reason to believe that.
This wasn’t the first time the U.S. women have been treated like second-class citizens.
This summer, Morgan and Christine Sinclair, Canada’s most popular player, had to take to social media to get the National Women’s Soccer League to stop booking visiting teams into a Kansas City hotel that was infested with bedbugs.
(While the NWSL isn’t U.S. Soccer, it is the federation’s stepchild. The league wouldn’t exist if U.S. Soccer hadn’t pushed for its creation and agreed to subsidize its payroll, and it wouldn’t stay in business for five minutes without the national team members who populate its franchises.)
After it was embarrassed publicly by Morgan and Sinclair, the league took action, moving visiting teams to a different hotel for the remainder of the season and apologizing to the players.
Does the pattern sound familiar? First, the athletes let the public know they’re being treated like crap. Then swift action is taken, and profuse apologies are issued.
And earlier, when members of the U.S. women’s team — along with stars from other national teams — fought their long, unsuccessful battle against the use of artificial turf at the World Cup in Canada, Gulati, to my knowledge, never lifted a finger to support the players.
Maybe there was nothing he could have done.
Or maybe he didn’t care one way or the other.
As Carli Lloyd noted on Twitter, even after the World Cup turf fight, when Team USA returned from Canada triumphant and U.S. Soccer organized the Victory Tour, eight of the tour’s 10 games were booked in stadiums with artificial turf.
In 2015, the U.S. men’s team has played 20 games.
How many of those men’s games have taken place on artificial turf? (Hint: It’s the same as the number of men’s World Cups that have been played on artificial turf.)
The discrepancy couldn’t be plainer
“That’s a concern of mine,” Morgan said.
Whether it’s a concern of her bosses is another matter.