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AG reviewing claim that stadium defaulted on deal with soccer team

  • KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / DEC. 5

    USA women’s coach Jill Evans talks with her team as the national women’s soccer team practiced at Aloha Stadium in Halawa on Saturday.

    KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / DEC. 5 USA women’s coach Jill Ellis talks with her team as the national women’s soccer team practiced at Aloha Stadium in Halawa on Saturday.

The state attorney general is reviewing a letter which says Aloha Stadium defaulted on its agreement with the U.S. women’s soccer team.

The letter from U.S. Soccer Federation lawyer Lisa Levine said it was the stadium’s responsibility to provide a first-class field. But the field provided by the Stadium Authority for an exhibition last Sunday was “unfit, unsafe and unplayable,” she said.

The field “has seams, is uneven and contains pebbles as part of the infill through the surface,” she said.

The federation cited poor field conditions when it abruptly canceled the game last weekend.

Josh Wisch, spokesman for the Hawaii attorney general, said today that his office is reviewing the letter.

Aloha Stadium Deputy Manager Lois Manin declined to comment today citing the attorney general’s involvement. She said no repairs were planned for the stadium.

Stadium officials had previously disagreed with the claim that the field is unsafe.

“The playing surface was installed in 2011 and is still under warranty by the manufacturer,” Stadium Manager Scott Chan said in a news release Sunday. “This is a matter of preference by U.S. Soccer and being unfairly portrayed as a matter of safety. We have not had any issues with the safety of the turf with any of our users to date until now.”

The United States was scheduled to pay Trinidad and Tobago in Hawaii on Sunday as part of a 10-game exhibition tour celebrating the American victory in the Women’s World Cup last summer.

The U.S. team collectively issued a statement on The Players’ Tribune website on Sunday night describing the conditions when the team went to the field the day before the match.

“There were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field. They were everywhere. The artificial turf was actually pulling up out of the ground, and the turf itself was both low-grade and aging. This was a playing surface that looked like it hadn’t been replaced in years,” the statement said.

The poor conditions were not limited to the field at Aloha Stadium, the players said.

On Friday, midfielder Megan Rapinoe tore a ligament in her right knee during practice on a grass training field in Honolulu. Although there was no way to say whether the injury was connected to the field, the practice field was also in poor condition, the players said.

“Megan’s injury took place while playing on a subpar training field,” the U.S. players said in the posting on The Players’ Tribune. “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.”

The players, who apologized to the fans, said they had to put their safety first.

The U.S. federation said it would issue full refunds for the tickets sold.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority had planned to sponsor the soccer match. But on Monday, the tourism group said it never shelled out the $200,000 it had agreed to pay the U.S. Soccer Federation to serve as marketing sponsor because it never received a fully executed, notarized contract from the soccer organization.

Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, told the New York Times the last-minute cancelation of a women’s national team exhibition game over the weekend in Honolulu because of an unsafe artificial turf field was “absolutely a black eye for this organization,” and he apologized to the team’s fans, players and support staff for the federation’s “series of mistakes” in failing to ensure that the field was suitable for an international match.

Gulati, who made the decision to cancel the game against Trinidad and Tobago less than 24 hours before it was set to be played Sunday at Aloha Stadium, said that federation protocol was generally to make a field inspection of new or unusual venues ahead of time. He also said that of the 10 venues being used for the team’s victory tour, Honolulu’s was the only one where an inspection did not happen.

Goalie Hope Solo of the United States shared a photo of the Aloha Stadium conditions with her Twitter followers, which number over one million.

Part of that, Gulati said, was the federation’s knowledge that the N.F.L.’s Pro Bowl would be held at the stadium in a few months. Still, he added, an inspection should have been done.

“We had a series of mistakes involving this game,” he said. “We screwed up. It won’t happen again.”

Rich Nichols, the general counsel for the Women’s National Team Players Association, said the incident in Hawaii was just the latest talking point in a necessary discussion about the use of artificial turf as a playing surface for the women’s team. Nichols did not rule out the possibility that the players might seek to cancel some of the remaining games on their tour, which is celebrating the Americans’ victory at the Women’s World Cup last summer. Two of the remaining three games on the tour are scheduled to be played on artificial turf.

“I think women have made it clear, not just here but around the world, that playing on artificial turf is just not acceptable,” Nichols said. “The women should not be subjected to playing on unsafe fields or under unsafe playing conditions. And artificial turf is unsafe.”

Representatives from U.S. Soccer plan to meet with the players Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, where the next match of the Victory Tour is scheduled for Thursday. At that meeting, it is expected that the U.S. Soccer officials will reiterate their support for the national team and discuss the 2016 schedule of games that will serve as the team’s run-up to the Rio Olympics.

All of those games, Gulati said, will take place on grass — including an invitational tournament that the United States will host, most likely in March, against top women’s national teams. That tournament will replace the team’s annual trip to the Algarve Cup in Portugal. But artificial surfaces, despite the wishes of many players of both genders, are unlikely to disappear from use in the United States any time soon.

“We’re not willing to rule out artificial surfaces,” Gulati said. “It’s quite possible that the men’s team will play on an artificial surface in the next year, too.”

He added: “Is there always a preference to play on a well-kept grass surface? Yes. Of course. But I can’t rule artificial surfaces out because of all the different factors. Time zones, weather, stadium availabilities — there are a lot of things that go into scheduling games in this country.”

Gulati said he first heard concerns about the field at Aloha Stadium on Saturday while he was in Columbus, Ohio, for Sunday’s M.L.S. Cup final. He spoke with Nichols, who said that he is in daily contact with the team, as well as the team’s coach, Jill Ellis, and then asked federation officials to work with stadium staff to try to rectify the situation. Pictures of the artificial turf at the stadium showed gaps in the seams of the surface as well as filler pebbles made of a substance with sharp edges.

In a post on The Players’ Tribune, the website founded by Derek Jeter that is designed for athletes to speak directly to the public, the women’s national team players said: “There were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field. They were everywhere. The artificial turf was actually pulling up out of the ground, and the turf itself was both low-grade and aging. This was a playing surface that looked like it hadn’t been replaced in years.”

When it became clear that quickly fixing the field was not possible, Gulati said, there was little choice; the players had made it clear that they would not play on the surface.

“I can’t recall anything like this ever happening before,” Gulati said of the last-minute cancelation, calling the situation “incredibly disappointing.”

In the Internet post, the team also expressed disappointment in the grass training field that was provided for the team’s use; Megan Rapinoe, a veteran midfielder for the team, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Friday in a workout, and the team said the noncontact injury could be attributed, at least in part, to the “subpar” facility, which had “sewer plates and plastic coverings” along its edges.

Rapinoe’s injury and the cancelation of the match will serve as the latest flash point in a continuing and complex discussion about gender equity in soccer. The debate was particularly heightened last summer when FIFA held the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf fields in Canada — an unprecedented decision for a senior level World Cup; the men’s World Cup has been played only on grass. Several American players participated in a discrimination lawsuit trying to force a change in the surfaces for the Women’s World Cup, but after several unsuccessful attempts at a compromise with soccer authorities, they dropped the suit to focus on preparations for the tournament.

Critics of U.S. Soccer have also long railed against the unequal treatment of the men’s and women’s national teams — with the disparity in the number of games played on artificial surfaces among the more prominent issues — while advocates highlight the organization’s longstanding financial support for women’s soccer, its commitment to player development and its support of various iterations of a professional women’s league. Women’s national team players are also full-time employees, receiving steady salaries and severance when they leave the team; men’s national team players are paid on a per-game basis.

There is also a business component to be considered in the turf debate: While the popularity of the women’s national team is high, particularly after its victory at the Women’s World Cup, the revenues generated by the men’s team are significantly higher. In the past, that has made it easier, financially, to justify the expense of laying a grass field on top of turf for a single match.

Moya Dodd, a former member of the Australian women’s national team and a current member of FIFA’s executive committee, has been a leader in pushing for significant improvements in gender equity at the international level. She said that, on balance, U.S. Soccer’s track record on the issue was strong, particularly when compared with many other developed nations around the world.

“In most parts of the world, the women’s national team is more of a hobby than a profession,” Dodd said, “but the United States is an outlier when it comes to women’s national team activity and resourcing. The number of matches and days in camp each year is exceptional.”

That reputation, Gulati said, is why he feels so much frustration about what happened this weekend.

“We love our women’s national team, and we’ve put so much behind them,” Gulati said. “So, for this kind of a screw-up to happen just makes it feel like that much more of a step back.”

The United States will play Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday in San Antonio as the tour continues.

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  • I figured it would be a mainland writer who would finally explain exactly what was wrong with the astroturf field at the Aloha Stadium. Local media seemed to forget that this was the real issue and instead focused on the last minute cancellation as being the angle for the story.

    • The angle was stated by the general counsel for the Women’s National Team Players Association, . “I think women have made it clear, not just here but around the world, that playing on artificial turf is just not acceptable,” Nichols said. “The women should not be subjected to playing on unsafe fields or under unsafe playing conditions. And artificial turf is unsafe.” I’m not defending the quality or age of the field. But I think it’s disingenuous to cite that as the primary reason, when in fact team members have said publically they do not want to play on turf, and they accepted the opportunity to come to Hawaii and play on turf. And a contract was signed.

      In one of the weekend interviews over this episode, Shannon Boxx, reinforcing the team members disdain for turf in general, said “we’ve always wondered how they decided where to schedule these matches.” She also cited disdain for the width of the field at Aloha Stadium, which admittedly is not standard soccer pitch width, but that was known in advance as well.

      There is great participation in soccer by the youth on Oahu and there was great enthusiasm when the Waipio Soccer complex was built. I would submit that it is the place where a field fitting, and designed, for high caliber play should be matured. Sure, seating is an issue. But no doubt if the city/county/state thought about it, there are solutions to that as well.

  • Aloha Stadium’s use of turf is nothing new, they have had turf since it’s opening. Didn’t the team know of this? Why didn’t they bring it up earlier like they were scheduling this?

    • Not even half of the stadium would be full; only 16,000 tickets sold. From sources within this was a big issue as the mainland games were sold out 40,000+. An injury to a key player. Turf; well we heard all the crying about that from World Cup. Smaller field which would make for a tougher match- more physical and compact. Spoiled women who do this for a living as the article said versus women who have to work and do this on the side. No wonder they won the Cup. Complained to death about the turf at the world cup but still played cause no other teams really through any fits.

      • Hawaii’s long list of failed infrastructures continues. Restaurant Row. Convention Center. Aloha “Rusty” Stadium. Ala Moana SC. Potholes galore. Next will be the rail. You could add more to my list, if you want to.

        • Come-on, the state has been trying to offload/redesign, demo the stadium for awhile. Deferred maintenance til event time was the reason for the low quality fields.

  • if football players can play on the field, with all the running and physical contact, and feel it is ok for them to play on, I fail to see how soccer players are at more of a risk than football players. but I don’t know a lot about today’s soccer and don’t really care. personally, I think these ladies are a bunch of divas. Rapinoe got hurt on a grass field. when you play any sport, there is always the chance of injury, period. stop the whining.

    • Watch a professional soccer game and watch an NFL game. The amount of skin protection on a soccer player is minimal and they often slide on the grass when “tackling” a player who has the ball. They don’t have long, skin tight pants like NFL players wear nor the padding or other protective layers NFL players have. Watch the amount of running pro soccer players do in a game and the amount of high intensity movements they employ such as cutting to the left and right at sharp angles to control the ball or to defend against an opposing player. The surface of the playing field is critical, perhaps even more so for pro soccer players.

  • In the Internet post, the team also expressed disappointment in the grass training field that was provided for the team’s use; Megan Rapinoe, a veteran midfielder for the team, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Friday in a workout, and the team said the noncontact injury could be attributed, at least in part, to the “subpar” facility, which had “sewer plates and plastic coverings” along its edges.

    What did they expect? This is Hawaii, we’re small time.

  • A local reporter (unnamed station) reported last night that she wanted to see Aloha Stadium’s astroturf but was denied by the State. Why? If the astroturf surface is okay and up to spec, what is there to hide?

  • Why is no one asking what happened to the Trinidad and Tobago team? Where were they? The game was cancelled 24 hours before the game was supposed to have started. Were they even on the island? How far in advance did they know that the game was canceled?

  • We have high school, college and professional football games on this field with no complaints. Women’s and men’s soccer on grass fields should be the norm because they have no protective clothing, however, the US Soccer Federation knew from the very beginning that Aloha Stadium has synthetic turf. Sounds like a lot of BS from the Federation and that any costs incurred by our residents, etc should be payed out of the Federation’s coffers instead of Hawaii. But of course, our administrators and AG will probably roll over and let the Hawaii taxpayers eat it and also be subject to further ridicule as a third world state. When will all this B – stop and Hawaii grow some b _ _ _ s.

  • three days of reports and yet not a word on where the trinidad/tabago team was during the last seven days, not to mention the day of the game.

    with all the attention focused on the u.s. team’s cancelation, the condition of the field and the expected payments no one has noticed that there was no opposing team in the state to play the u.s. women’s soccer team?

    • We also don’t hear about the Washington Bullets when they come to play the Globetrotters. That would be some next-level (down) journalism.

  • I think this whole situation stinks to high heaven… US Soccer Federation is piece of cr@p! They probably paid
    off the women’s team to say that the field was inadequate, too small, dangerous, and other shibai stuffs because they couldn’t handle the fact they only sold 15000 tickets. Cowards! The Trinidad & Tobago team knew this well before Saturday, no news coverage on them, never saw them practice, nothing. I understand the WNT side about playing on grass and having the same perks as the mens but to cancel a game on a short notice? I hope HTA and Aloha Stadium hold their ground in this mess and learn something.

  • Sounds like there is an agenda set by the women and their union….no artifical turf. And they chose to further their campaign by throwing Hawaii under the bus.

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