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    CHRONO SPORTS

  • Wednesday, May 17, 2000

    Grounds for concern

    Soccer plans dealt a major kick in the grass

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

     The Edmonton Eskimos will play a year and a half of CFL games on a fractured football field. But will Canada be able to play World Cup qualifying games on a bastardized soccer field?

     Kevan Pipe of the Canadian Soccer Association says it's likely non-negotiable.

     "It's a major situation. If the field doesn't meet minimum measurements, we don't have a choice. We can't play in Edmonton.''

     The view out Gary Sampley's office window at the Alberta Soccer Association is of the construction at Commonwealth Stadium.

     Sampley, who is being asked to vacate his offices for three months for the world track and field championships next year despite holding a legal lease, is also steamed that Edmonton 2001 "consults with the Eskimos at every turn and has had no consultations with us.''

     He also says he probably has a problem in this situation with Edmonton 2001 chairman Jack Agrios and a rule that no board members talk to the media. Sampley is on the board.

     The Eskimos are planning to live with a combination of grass and artificial turf surfaces which they started the day yesterday believing would go from the four-yard line to the back of the end zone. The Eskimos were also under the impression there would be artificial turf from the edge of the CFL sidelines to the edge of the track.

     The football team, a big benefactor of the upgrading of Commonwealth Stadium, is quite happy to live with whatever.

     "It'll be two different surfaces, no question,'' said GM Tom Higgins.

     "But it's not like going from grass to Astroturf as such. That'd be a challenge.

     "It's FieldTurf. It plays like grass. It's the same kind of surface they're using at (the University of) Nebraska. We've talked to them and they love it. You wear the same shoes you wear on grass. It should not be a big change.''

     IS IT OR IS IT NOT APPROVED?

     Except it's a different company that won the tendering for the turf - Astroplay out of Montreal. And Sampley says it's not a FIFA-approved surface, despite Edmonton 2001's idea that it would be FIFA-approved.

     Whatever, this year the field turf will be the same level as the grass.The field turf will be placed on top of the asphalt currently being installed.

     But next year the actual Mondo track will be laid down on top of the asphalt base and the field turf will be placed on top of it.

     That means the field turf will be about a half-inch higher than the grass field. The idea will be to build up the level of the grass field - meaning it'll be uphill in the end zone.

     Sampley says he'd been getting two different stories on the mix 'n' match field, the first indicating the sidelines would be about six yards too narrow to qualify for a minimum-size World Cup qualifying field, the latest that the grass field will have a 63.1-metre width which would leave it .9 metres too narrow.

     That, says Edmonton 2001 CEO Rick LeLacheur, is the updated plan - a grass field .9 metres too narrow.

     LeLacheur says his information is that the soccer games in Commonwealth have been played on a field several metres short of the 67-metre FIFA rule. But Sampley says FIFA's maximum is 67 metres and the minimum is 64.

     "That might be do-able,'' said Sampley of 63.1. "We'd have to get special permission. Who knows if we'd get it. If we didn't get these games it would really be a blow.''

     Pipe says he's never heard of a special exemption for World Cup qualifying games.

     NARROW SCOPE

     Considering some of the official-sized but vacant lot-like fields on which some of the Caribbean teams play their World Cup qualifying games, you'd hope .9 of a metre, whether narrow or on unapproved turf, couldn't kill a couple of games in a four-star stadium like Commonwealth. That's a foot-and-a-half on either side of the field.

     There's no way FIFA would have agreed to a combination of grass and artificial turf that met four yards in front of either goal. But that's not the way it's going to turn out, says LeLacheur.

     "We've cut the 'D' zones down,'' he said of fresh new plans for the `D' shaped end-zone sections at either end of the track for high jump, pole vault and throws.

     "As for the sidelines, to make everything fit in Commonwealth Stadium, we have to have the long jump and triple jump inside the track. At other world championships the long jump and triple jump pit has been on the outside of the track.''

     The soccer games in question feature English Premiership star Dwight Yorke of Manchester United in a game against Trinidad and Tobago in July, and another against Mexico in October. The two teams were both beaten by Canada en route to the shock upset Gold Cup championship earlier this year.

     Canada, in June, must win a home-and-home series against either Barbados or Cuba to make it to the "Group Of Death'' qualifying pool with Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras.

     The fractured football field is going to seem strange and the World Cup games are a worry. But everybody knew from the get-go that Commonwealth Stadium was going to be a fit-out nightmare.

     Just as long as nobody has a fit in the meantime, this has to be a situation which can be solved.



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