Make your home page

New turf war opens old wound: How Indianapolis fell off World Cup radar

Rakestraw on artificial turf

Greg Rakestraw discusses new calls for natural grass instead of artificial turf. He says the issue has already cost the city a spot in the international spotlight.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In launching a new push for natural grass, the National Football League Players Association steps into a debate that has long divided soccer.

In fact, WISH-TV’s voice for both forms of football says the issue likely cost Indianapolis a host role for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

“That is correct,” Greg Rakestraw, the play-by-play voice of the Indy Eleven and high school football games through ISC Sports, said.

While reflecting on whether the city ever had the chance to be one of the eleven American cities that will host 2026 World Cup games, Rakestraw recalled Lucas Oil Stadium’s one moment in the international soccer spotlight.

“Ten years ago, we had this huge international friendly between Inter Milan and Chelsea. The crowd was great. The atmosphere was great. The pitch was not.”

Rakestraw says the sod temporarily installed for that contest was not sustainable for any length of time inside the stadium, and World Cup organizers have said all host sites must have natural grass.

When, in 2009, the U.S. made a pitch to host the 2022 World Cup, Lucas Oil Stadium was considered a likely venue. Just four years later, when America tried again, international football had turned firmly toward natural surfaces, and Lucas Oil Stadium was one of the first sites cut from the list.

The NFL currently has a nearly even split of teams that play on grass and those that have artificial turf. The Indianapolis Colts tee it up on an artificial surface, and the city’s Capitol Improvement Board just committed to installing a newer version of the ersatz grass.

In contrast, full artificial turf fields are nearly non-existent in soccer’s top leagues. Pitches in the English Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, and Italy’s Serie A are almost exclusively natural grass or a hybrid surface that is largely grass with a fractional amount of synthetic material for durability.

America’s Major League Soccer still has several artificial pitches, though that may be changing soon. The arrival of superstar Lionel Messi in MLS prompted the league’s commissioner to urge six holdout cities to install natural versions.

The U.S. Women’s National Team has already won one victory in the issue. FIFA, the organizing body of the World Cup, allowed some of the 2015 Women’s World Cup games to happen on artificial turf, to the frustration of the athletes. The U.S. team sued, and FIFA later outlawed artificial turf for World Cup sites.

Rakestraw says he is not surprised by any of the calls for a return to the games’ ‘roots’.

“I think what athletes have been telling us for the last decade or so is, ‘Hey, it’s better than the old (artificial) turf, which was basically like painted concrete, but it’s still never as good as the real thing.’”

Rakestraw may get to broadcast grass games soon; the new Indy Eleven stadium plans call for a natural surface when games start in 2025.