Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach wasn’t kidding when she threatened legal action against FIFA for forcing the world’s top female stars to play a World Cup on artificial turf.
After weeks of threats, attorneys representing some of the world’s most high-profile women’s soccer players have filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against both FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association due to plans for artificial turf will be used at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The plaintiffs include USWNT members Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Heather O’Reilly, German National Team goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, Fabiana of Brazil and 14 other players representing 11 national teams.
The suit has been filed in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, with a request to expedite the proceedings in order for them to be heard in short time.
“Two months ago, attorneys for a coalition of leading players informed officials from the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA that forcing the 2015 women’s World Cup to take place on artificial turf rather than grass was not only wrong but also constituted illegal sex discrimination,” said a statement Wednesday from attorney Hampton Dillinger, who is representing the players. “Men’s World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf. The difference matters: plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition.”
“Through public statements and private communications the players and their lawyers have clearly signaled to CSA and FIFA that we want to resolve the ‘turf war’ through good faith negotiations rather than litigation. CSA and FIFA have ignored these overtures. As a result, the players have no choice but to initiate the legal action filed today. Whatever happens in court, CSA and FIFA have lost any claim to being good stewards of the women’s game — until they correct their mistake.”
In the application, filed to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the plaintiffs allege that the respondents, FIFA and the CSA, are committing a violation of the Ontario Human Right’s Code by forcing the 2015 Women’s World Cup to be played primarily on artificial surface.
The brief lays out a whole host of ways that FIFA and/or the CSA have pledged to be anti-discriminatory, only in action to do the opposite. The CSA has continued to ensure that men’s World Cup qualification games take place on grass fields, with a 2012 report in the New York Times stating that the artificial turf at two Women’s World Cup venues, BC Place in Vancouver and Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, was a “deal-breaker” that kept the Canadian National Team away from playing qualification matches there.
The brief also alleges that FIFA conducted a survey in 2013 of 190 “elite women’s soccer players” on their preference between turf or grass, with FIFA apparently indicating that it would take into account the response from the players. While 77 percent reportedly stated that major tournaments “should be played on natural turf,” both FIFA and the CSA have pushed ahead with the 2015 Women’s World Cup taking place on artificial turf. FIFA, however, has denied the survey would determine decisions for the 2015 World Cup and it was merely meant for information gathering.
FIFA hired an independent consultant to examine the playing surfaces in the six host cities in Montreal, Moncton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver, a process that started this week. But asked about the inspections, a FIFA representation made it clear that FIFA’s stance is turf or bust.
“We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B,” Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s deputy director of the competitions division and head of women’s competitions, told the CBC on Tuesday.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s past trend of comments has done little to quiet critics who have voiced concerns about FIFA treating women’s soccer fairly compared to men’s soccer. As recently as Aug. 5, on the eve of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada, where Blatter said, “artificial pitches are the future,” he made another comment viewed by many as offensive to women in soccer.
“Football is very macho,” Blatter said, when asked what he was doing to promote women in FIFA. “It’s so difficult to accept [women] in the game. Not playing the game, but in the governance.”
Read the legal filings, obtained by SBI, below:
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