Winnipeg soccer players will have to be a little less afraid of sacrificing a limb to “the turf monster” after it was announced that the Waverly Soccer Complex will be tearing out two fields to be replaced with artificial fields. Anyone who may have followed my recent rants about soccer knows I’ve got no love for the bureaucracy that I feel is holding the game back. So it does my heart good to see the project, which will cost just over 1.1 million dollars, got rolling after local soccer enthusiast Demitris Scouras managed to catch the ear of Manitoba soccer officials.

Some of you might find it surprising but suffice it to say, I have an opinion or two on the subject.   

First things first, I know better than to complain when I get what I want. So let me preface this by saying I do think its awesome that those fields, which were in dire need of replacing, are getting this upgrade. Also just the fact that this demonstrates some level of government support (to the tune of $600,000 from Ottawa and the province combined) elicits a feeling in me I can only describe as electric.

The issue I have is with the slant I seem to find on all the press for the new fields, the slant being that this is the greatest thing to happen for the players since the advent of the game itself. The article in the Free Press and the CJOB coverage are all about the superiority of the artificial turf both for the players and for maintenance. As well they both make optimistic cases for the impact this will have on the youth trying to participate in soccer; no longer will we be subject to the whims of the weather and that the new fields will allow for the complex to play host to roughly 1000 games as opposed to the 250 it currently does in a season. In short, all they are doing is regurgitating the message of the official press release from the MSA. You don’t trust the slick talking TV salesman when he lists the virtues of his own product (the Slap Chop will not, in fact, allow you to slap your troubles away), and you should be similarly wary in this case.

First off the gratuitous praise for artificial turf is, in my opinion, a little uncalled for. Don’t get me wrong I’ve played on it many times and not only do I feel that field turf is a great substitute, being a realist I’m willing to acknowledge that thanks to our climate a well maintained grass pitch is not a realistic option. However I don’t think there’s any player in the world who would say they prefer field turf over the real thing, not to mention artificial turf is not without its critics.

Additionally the bold claims about the impact this will have for young players, the length of the season, and opportunities to play host to official tournaments makes me raise an eyebrow. Those young players who were already on teams that played at Waverly or elsewhere in the city were going to keep playing (or not) regardless of new fields. If this were being done out of a legitimate interest in promoting the sport I assure you there are better ways of reaching out to youth or other new players. As far as not being at the mercy of the weather and the number of games played quadrupling, lets not forget we live in a city affectionately called “WinterPeg”, and that even the “miracle” of field turf will not change the fact that we cannot play outdoor for a large portion of the year. Also the new fields are only replacing old ones so while I hope the complex plays host to 1000 games I don’t understand how such a significant increase is possible, I do hope they prove me wrong though. When it comes to the idea of us becoming a viable host for international games, I’d say my stance there borders on cautious optimism. Sure, by having fields that are approved by FIFA we do increase our chances 100%, however its only 100% of the 0% we were sitting at before. Waverly’s bleachers will never come close to seating as many as Toronto’s BMO field and though I would kill or die to see us host a big game I won’t hold my breath for us winning a bid for a game over them.

This is business, the government and MSA are investing in these fields to see a return, which is totally fair. Just keep in mind when they give the impression they are altruistic and this is huge commitment to the future of soccer, the Waverly Complex is on land owned by the city and slated to be a water reservoir if and when the city grows enough to need one there. In ten years from now when those fields need to be torn up again it might be deemed by the same people who brought those fields to life that its no longer economically viable to replace them, especially if in the next few years it will be turned into a reservoir. On that day so long as the ledger is in the black, which I’m sure it will be since the project has been approved, very few of the people who claimed today that they “did it for the game” will be sad to see the fields go.

Image Saturday Originally uploaded by Stuck in Customs