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Women’s World Cup discriminatory lawsuit filed against CSA and FIFA

Abby Wambach

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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:

Legal facts and argument / letter

Request to expedite letter / form


What do you think of this development. Did you expect the players to actually file a lawsuit? Think they have a good chance at winning a judgement?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I’m wondering what the ~$500K world cup bid money was used for in 2013? T&A I mean T&E? Remember our bid to host 2022 was completed and submitted back in 2010 and likely cost a lot more than $500K.

  2. For those of you that have played on artificial turf (the new stuff, not the old green carpet on concrete), how does it compare to playing on real grass? In my job, I had the opportunity to walk around on the Detroit Lions’ field at Ford and it felt pretty natural to walk on, I am just curious as to how it plays.

    • It is 1000 times better than the old carpet which was crap. That being said, it still plays faster than grass, it is very slick when wet and not the best to slide tackle ( I try to avoid it). I don’t like playing on it when wet. I get this feeling that there’s a greater risk of injury, but my friends think it’s ok.

  3. How much would it cost to cover all the fields with natural grass for the tournament? $150-$200k max?

    Well, FIFA is sitting on a war chest of $1,000,000,000+. $200k is a rounding error. Shameful.

  4. Didn’t Canada host a youth WC (I can’t remember if it was U-19 or U-23 but Freddy Adu actually had a great tournament. When was it and what was the exact competition.

    That was on grass right?

    • You are thinking of the 2007 U-20 World Cup, which was played on both artificial and natural grass (3 venues each). The final was played on artificial turf at BMO in Toronto (it has since been replaced with grass).

      As for Freddy, yes he did have an excellent tournament…. sadly, perhaps his finest hour. He captained the team in spite of being only 18, and was outstanding in wins over Brazil and Poland.

      In unrelated news, I have to go lie down. I think I’m gonna be sick.

  5. I doubt the sponsors care much. Who watches this thing? Is it even on tv?
    It’s disgusting that they use the word “discrimination” in this situation. If you don’t like it skip the tournament. It’s not like anybody is going to notice.

    • The US-Japan final in 2011 was, at the time, the highest rating ESPN ever had for a soccer game, so people other than you watched, I would say.

    • I cannot tell if you are just ignorant or purposefully trolling. I take the later since most people on this sites actually follow a lot of soccer.

      • Think pretty much anybody who comes on SBI and makes these kinds of unnecessary disparaging comments in articles about women’s soccer is trolling.

    • If the US gets to the final people in this country will watch. In general I would assume a discerning sports fan would recognize that the same sport being played at slower speeds is an inferior product. In general I do not enjoy watching a women’s soccer match. Sure I will watch a bit of a women’s big tournament on tv but I can’t make it through a whole game.

  6. Awesome ladies! Stick in. Motion to expose studs on Blatter.

    But…like the Qatar WC NOTHING will likely happen unless the SPONSORS feel the heat.

  7. If it made financial sense to play on grass they would do it. Apparently this tourney doesn’t generate enough cash to make it worth it. It takes a modicum of arrogance to think you can make a business act by throwing a fairness argument around. FIFA is not in business to be fair. And neither is any other business.

      • Yep, and check FIFA’s website at how many times they throw the word “fair” around. Of course they want to create the illusion to be “fair.” They created an “ethics committee” that they pride themselves in having unlike the IOC.

    • FIFA will ABSOLUTELY make money off this tournament,, whether it is played on plastic or lumps of coal or real grass or 4 carat diamonds. FIFA makes money just by getting out bed in the morning. They take cuts of fees (all sorts imaginable) and put very little of their own (enormous) capital at stake.

      What they have done is create an opportunity for Canada to cheap out. Understand this tournament will probably lose considerably less money for Canda than a men’s World Cup would. It just doesn’t offer the internatinal prestige.

    • FIFA is actually not a business even though they make a ton of money and will of this. I actually know a guy who works there…well…he’s a friend of 2 friends of mine (a little stuck up and rolling in money)

  8. Football must never be played on played on plastic! Shame on MAFIA, I mean FIFA.

    What are you doing about this, Sounders, Timbers, Revs?

    Anyone there?

  9. Go get ’em, ladies. No excuse to play the women WC on plastic. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell the men’s tourney would play on anything but natural grass. Why the double standard?

      • Then I think that the point should be that FIFA should not allowed the bid to be submitted with turf fields. Ask yourself this, Canada did bid to host the FIFA Mens World Cup. Their bid did not include turf fields from what I remember. Would they submit a bid now with turf fields? No then arguably double standard.

      • Exactly. The bid should’ve been rejected and other avenues should’ve been pursued.

        As an ancillary point to this bogus argument, supporters of FIFA should also ask themselves why only two bids were contemplated (and one submitted) As we’ve learned from the USSF financials, the cost of a failed bid for the Men’s World Cup is almost $500k…. and while a bid for the Women’s World Cup is likely significantly less, it’s worth noting as reference that this is more than more than twice the salary of the Women’s Head Coach. THIS IS REAL MONEY, not to mention resource commitments.

        It’s not that nobody wants this tournament, it’s that nobody wants to put this kind of money and resource risk out there to finish second in a FIFA-managed bid process, even if the process isn’t corrupt (I know I know…. it is funny).

        Without having to compete in a true auction process, Canada got a built-in discount and could afford to bid an inferior tournament. Which they did, so they deserve to have their names on the suit (although they likely would in any case, because it’s very hard to fina a place to actually sue FIFA)

        So it really doesn’t matter — maybe Canada had been informally promised the tournament. Or maybe other countries simply decided “it’s not worth it to particpate in the expensive bid process” and decided (as Gulati has) to wait for a better process. Either way, the fact that there was only one bidder in the voting phase is very soft.

      • Exactly. Everyone says there was only one bidder but what if there had been no bidders? Does anyone think there wouldnt have been a Women’s WC in 2015? The same thing would have happened if FIFA had required grass fields. At some point other countries would have stepped forward and the tournament would have been played on grass. Maybe Canada would have modified their bid to play on grass…who knows?

      • Brazil was the only bidder in 2014, if they decided to make their bid artificial turf only do I think FIFA would have allowed it? I don’t, but I certainly cannot prove that.

        As far as I know the world cup bids are run in the exact same manner from FIFA. The women will point to the turf as discriminatory, FIFA will point to the bidding process and say it was not.

        To me the CSA has more to answer to from a discriminatory standpoint, but their argument will be an economic one I would assume.

      • No doubt, the discrimination angle is stronger in a courtroom. I think the ladies are going to have a tough go of it if it gets that far…. FIFA and CSA have a lot of outs and I’m not sure what they’ll be able to point to for precedent– it’s a weird situation. Their best bet is to continue trying to make this a PR nightmare until “someobody” finds a couple million bucks lying around.

      • a bid for a women’s world cup would not have to cost $500,000 like the men’s bid. This is not discrimination. FIFA put the men’s World Cup in Qatar where temperatures will be dangerous for the athletes. Maybe the men should file a discrimination suit over that. Women get a balmy Canada as a venue while the men get the blazing heat in a desert. FIFA execs care about money, that is what it comes down to. Not discrimination. Would FIFA execs discriminate against women? Yes, and these female players have probably seen it, but that doesn’t mean it is happening here.

      • “FIFA execs care about money, that is what it comes down to”

        Lame. Do your homework. FIFA makes money no matter what on these tournaments. They simply take fees and put almost no money at risk Canada is the one facing losses, and if history is any indication this tournament will almost certainly generate smaller losses then a men’s World Cup.

        The Qatar argument is so absurd won’t even touch it.

      • Unless the same restriction has been made for the men’s world cup bidding process now you are the one who is arguing for double standards.

      • FIFA Law 1 is the field of play and artificial surfaces are allowed unless otherwise specified by the competition. The surface must meet FIFA standards or IATS – UNLESS special dispensation is given by FIFA. I really think what they meant is if special COMPENSATION is given to FIFA.

      • The initial bid did have turf fields listed. Also, the Tribunal has no authority to initiate any changes (ie mandate grass). They can issue a monetary penalty. Short answer is that this should have been raised in 2011 when the cup was “awarded” to Canada.

      • Or that FIFA should have paid attention to it themselves at that point. Which seems to be at least implicit if not explicit in the suit.

      • Way to be part of the constructive argument there winner. “ahh.. you don’t agree with me, screw you, go jump off a bridge..I’m putting my fingers in my ears…”

        They (Women) make a valid argument, but I don’t know if it will work mainly because FIFA does not say non-turf bids only for the men’s tournament so it would be difficult to prove that they wouldn’t accept it. They would have to prove that the conditions on the field are measurably not equal to the conditions of natural grass fields/

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