Jérôme Valcke: The FIFA Women’s World Cup has established itself in recent years as a top football event, and is definitely one of FIFA’s highest-profile events. The last edition in Germany raised the bar very high, both on and off the pitch, but I am sure that Canada will be a great host for the upcoming event, which will feature 24 teams for the first time. We have also seen unprecedented interest from broadcasters around the world and, as such, have increased the production and services available to media rights licensees for the event. Given the importance of the tournament, you can be sure that we are working together with the National Organising Committee (NOC) to provide the best available infrastructure for the teams – who are, of course, our key players – the visitors and the media covering the event too. This also includes the playing surfaces, which are currently the source of much discussion and which I can personally guarantee will be of the highest international standard for the official stadiums and three training sites per host city. This is the reason why we have hired – as for previous FIFA events, including the men’s World Cup – an independent pitch expert and will also have a technical testing institute to monitor and verify the quality.
How do you rate the Women’s World Cup?
More and more [women’s] players are becoming recognised as professional athletes and, nowadays, can make their living out of football. This is thanks to the FIFA Women’s World Cup and its global prominence. Professional, semi-professional and amateur leagues the world over are improving all the time, helping the further development of the women’s game everywhere. The increased number of participants at the final tournament of the Women’s World Cup serves as an additional incentive for the member associations to promote women’s football at all levels within their countries. Furthermore, each FIFA Women’s World Cup brings a significant legacy for each host country in terms of infrastructure and participation in the sport. But, in fact, the tangible legacy of this tournament goes beyond the borders of the host country. For instance, after Germany 2011 some broadcasters decided to show domestic women’s games live – something which, before the event, had probably only been the case for some international games, if at all. Each confederation and member association is giving greater consideration to women’s football in order to become part of the biggest event in the sport.
How do you explain, then, all the comments around the next edition to be held in Canada?
We fully understand that the players who have qualified for the Women’s World Cup want to ensure that they have the best conditions to perform well. This is a goal they share with FIFA. Everybody can be assured that we take the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 very seriously and are committed to working together with the National Organising Committee to organise the best possible tournament. By the way, for many years now, any organiser of a FIFA event – irrespective of whether it be a men’s or women’s competition, including the men’s World Cup – has had the right to propose for the tournament to be played on artificial turf, provided that it is of the highest quality and the same playing surface is used for all venues and training sites. It could well be that sooner rather than later the men’s World Cup will also be played on artificial pitches. The Canadian Soccer Association proposed for the tournament to be played on artificial turf based on the fact that most sporting infrastructure in Canada is on artificial turf, primarily due to the extreme climate in the host country. It would be very difficult to ensure solid natural-grass pitches at all venues. As has already been explained, this is not a question of money, or of differences between men’s and women’s events, but it is a matter of the natural conditions in Canada: we want to guarantee consistent top-level playing conditions for all 24 teams during the event, both in the official stadiums and at the training sites. This has been the sole reason behind the decision to play on artificial turf from day one.
Talking about the stadiums, can you confirm anything about the pitch quality for Canada 2015?
As mentioned earlier and confirmed by the FIFA Executive Committee back in March 2013, the stadiums and training sites will be of the highest standard, which means, in terms of the FIFA quality programme, two stars. Here, I want to reiterate FIFA’s commitment to making sure that all pitches at the official stadiums and training sites will be of this two-star quality. In early October, our pitch expert conducted an inspection and reviewed all the pitches to give recommendations to the NOC to ensure that we will reach the required quality for the tournament. The report will soon be finalised and we will make it available to the teams and the media. We are also in close contact with the NOC with regard to logistics, as well as in terms of any need for financial support. It is our duty to the players to make sure that all requirements are fulfilled by the NOC.
Some players have criticised FIFA’s lack of engagement on this matter. What is your position on this?
Our women’s competitions team, which is led by Deputy Director of Competitions Tatjana Haenni – who, by the way, is not only a former player but also president of FC Zurich women’s football club – has been and is in regular contact with the member associations and the teams regarding all matters related to the staging of the competition, including questions about the playing surface. Dialogue with the participating teams and, naturally, the players is very important to us and we keep open channels of communication with all parties before, during and after the event. As such, we organise dedicated team workshops for each of our tournaments as a platform for addressing any operational questions, covering all aspects from team and technical services to medical and logistical matters. We will again welcome open dialogue at the official draw on 6 December in Ottawa. I, personally, will attend alongside our pitch expert and medical teams, and I am sure that in this way we will be able to address all concerns and doubts so that all of the participating teams can focus on their preparation for the biggest event in women’s football. I am convinced that we will see fantastic football played in the stadiums in Canada next June/July, just as we did four years ago.