Five months after FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, emphatically reaffirmed that Canada would host the first Women’s World Cup (WWC) played entirely on artificial turf, pitch politics are yielding to questions about economics.
United States national-team captain Abby Wambach led the failed switch-to-natural-grass movement and told ESPN in early May that FIFA turned down Ohio-based Scotts Miracle-Gro’s offer to pay for grass pitches at all six WWC venues, including that of the July 5 final host, B.C. Place Stadium.
At the end of May, the public-owned home of the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions replaced its 2011-installed synthetic pitch at a cost of $1.327 million.
But did British Columbians pay too much?
B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) chose Burnaby turf distributor Centaur Products to install the new Polytan LigaTurf surface in the stadium, which hosted the first of nine WWC matches on June 8. The Crown corporation said it is paying $827,000, with the rest from the Canadian Soccer Association ($400,000) and Rugby Canada ($100,000), the host of next March’s inaugural Canada Sevens. Both national sport organizations receive substantial government subsidies.
By comparison, the new Shaw Sports Turf field at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium had an announced $800,000 price tag, split by the City of Edmonton and the CSA. FIFA ordered the pitch switch where the WWC kicked off June 6 after broadcasters complained that erased Canadian Football League lines were still visible during last summer’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
Likewise, broadcasters also wanted a greener pitch at B.C. Place, which claims that it was planning for a new rug in 2016. The old turf, trucked away at the City of Surrey’s expense for anticipated use in Newton, originally cost PavCo $1.2 million and had a 40-millimetre blade height. FIFA and World Rugby agreed in 2009 to a new 60-mm standard.
Crews installed the new field in time for the Whitecaps to host Real Salt Lake on May 30, the day after FIFA voted scandal-plagued Sepp Blatter into a fifth term as president, only to have him announce his resignation the following week after more criminal bribery and corruption allegations emerged.
FIFA boasted a record US$5.7 billion in revenue from 2011 to 2014, which included US$55 million from soccer-ball and artificial-turf manufacturers paying the FIFA Quality Program for testing and certification.
Polytan distributor Centaur appeared to have the edge at B.C. Place because the request for proposals insisted on reusing the 30-mm elastic shock-absorbing layer it installed under the field in 2011.
Provincial Crown corporation PavCo told unsuccessful bidders AstroTurf, FieldTurf and UBU Sports, in writing, on March 27: “The chosen Centaur/Polytan turf was the only product certified to meet both FIFA 2-Star and World Rugby Regulation 22 specifications as tested on the existing (shock absorbing) elastic-layer at B.C. Place Stadium; a mandatory criteria of the RFP [request for proposals].”
AstroTurf is on the list of 19 FIFA licensees, while Polytan and FieldTurf are among FIFA’s nine and World Rugby’s seven preferred producers.
PavCo consultant Robert Johnston, a Victoria sports-facility architect who was involved in the $514-million B.C. Place renovation, prepared the RFP. He declined to do an interview and did not respond to a question about whether the Centaur bid was the only one that could have satisfied the RFP as it was written, instead referring the Straight to PavCo, whose chair, Stuart McLaughlin, and CEO, Ken Cretney, did not respond to interview requests.
Neither PavCo nor its parent, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, would release the bid values or even deny that Centaur was the highest bidder.
During an April 29 budget-estimates hearing, NDP PavCo critic David Eby asked Todd Stone, the B.C. Liberal minister responsible for the Crown corporation, if the unsuccessful bids’ values would be released so British Columbians could learn why they are paying more than Albertans. Stone refused and referenced government procurement policy. (That policy states that it upholds the principles of “competition, demand aggregation, value for money, transparency and accountability” and purports to correspond with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.)
“There’s a variety of factors that come into play in this kind of a request for proposal, which is what this was,” Stone answered Eby, according to Hansard. “The factors included, obviously, price, but not just price. Also looked at product quality, overall quality of the product—the end result, the surface.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Centaur pricing came under fire. The Guelph Mercury reported on November 29, 2010, that Centaur charged the University of Guelph about $900,000 for a Polytan field when FieldTurf said it had bid $631,298. Centaur president David Wilson did not respond to interview requests, and marketing director Scott Huth referred the Straight to PavCo. FieldTurf vice president Darren Gill and AstroTurf Canada vice president Kenny Gilman were quoted in the Ontario story and involved in the PavCo bid but both declined comment for this story.
Don Hardman, the chief stadia officer for Canada’s WWC national organizing committee, said in an interview: “There were some other options that were available in Edmonton. The e-layer there has more flexibility and has been approved in a wider variety of systems than what the Polytan layer that’s existing in B.C. Place is. So we selected a manufacturer, we went with Shaw in Edmonton, and they were able to utilize an e-layer that was already preapproved and part of a certified system in the Shaw inventory.”
Meanwhile, pre–Women’s World Cup training scheduled for Empire Fields was relocated to False Creek Flats’ Trillium Park until June 1. Organizers announced on May 19 a last-minute job to remove the AstroTurf that PavCo installed at Empire in 2010 when it was a temporary stadium for the Lions and Whitecaps during B.C. Place renovations.
The city budgeted $5.17 million in 2011 to convert the former Empire Stadium site into a multisport park; that ballooned to $10.5 million. Completion was delayed until this spring for various reasons. WWC organizing-committee spokesman Richard Scott told the Straight it was paying $575,000 to install new AstroTurf. The removed AstroTurf will be stored while the park board ponders its next use.
Scott said the WWC national organizing committee, with a $90-million budget, would issue a spending report after the tournament. The federal Department of Canadian Heritage, which committed $15 million, denies it is funding stadium upgrades. B.C. is one of six WWC 2015 host provinces contributing $2 million each.
Rugby Canada had a $13.3-million budget in 2013, including a $5.1 million contribution split almost evenly between the Government of Canada and World Rugby. Only $793,000 came from sponsors. CSA does not publish its financials, but president Victor Montagliani said in a 2014 interview that the budget runs between $20 million and $22 million a year and the organization has a $5-million reserve. Sport Canada contributed $6.3 million for sport hosting and core funding in fiscal 2013-14.