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Group of U.S. Senators urge FIFA to host Women’s World Cup on grass

Marie-√?ve Nault Abby Wambach


The turf battle is getting a little support from Washington.

A group of 13 U.S. Senators sent a letter to FIFA, they announced Friday, urging that the organization to reconsider plans to host the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf.

“As members of the United States Senate, we are deeply concerned with FIFA’s treatment of these players,” the letter said. “We urge you to begin good faith negotiations with these athletes, free of retaliation and with the equal treatment that they deserve.”

The letter is the latest in a growing chorus — largely from American voices — calling on plans to be revised for the Women’s World Cup in June to allow for natural grass fields, instead of artificial turf. Although the men have never played a World Cup on artificial turf, with plans for grass through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association have dismissed claims of discrimination, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter calling artificial turf the future of soccer.

“We’re grateful that these Senators are standing beside us in our fight for an equal playing field at the World Cup,” said U.S. Women’s National Team forward Abby Wambach in a statement. “In soccer, the field means everything. But what’s at stake here is more than just the surface we’ll be playing on – it’s about gender equality and standing up for what’s right. Women’s soccer fans around the world are watching to see if our sport will be given the equal treatment it deserves, and now we know that Congress is watching, too.”

FIFA and CSA have forged ahead with plans to host the tournament on artificial turf, which will make it the first senior men’s or women’s World Cup to not be held on natural grass. During site inspections in Canada last month for the tournament’s venues, a representative from FIFA told reporters there was “no plan B” if the event cannot be held on artificial turf.

The public debate over whether FIFA and CSA is discriminating against female players by hosting the tournament on artificial turf took a turn when a group of players filed legal proceedings last month. A group of international players including Americans Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan were behind the legal motion, which sits with a Human Rights Tribunal in Ontario, Canada.

On Friday, the Tribunal denied a request made by the players group to expedite the proceedings to ensure a resolution while there is still time to convert the fields from artificial turf to grass.

The bipartisan Senators group, including 12 Democrats and one Republican, also sent a similar letter to U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, urging him to take advantage of his position as a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee to push for natural grass at the Women’s World Cup.

The group of signatories includes: U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Robert P. Casey (D-Penn.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

Read the full letter below:

November 7, 2014

Sepp Blatter
International Association of Federation Football (FIFA)
FIFA-Strasse 20
P.O. Box 80344
Zurich, Switzerland
Dear Mr. Blatter:

We write to express our concerns over reports that the 2015 Women’s World Cup will be held on artificial turf, whereas the men’s competition is held entirely on grass. We ask the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to reconsider this short-sighted and counterproductive decision.

We are particularly concerned by reports that FIFA has ignored the concerns of female players over the safety issues and lack of prestige associated with using turf fields. Furthermore, we are disturbed by reports that FIFA has threatened to retaliate against players who voice concerns and demand the same playing field as their male peers.

Artificial turf both increases the risk of serious injury and fundamentally changes the way the game is played. FIFA has never used turf fields for the men’s World Cup.  And it appears that it  has no plans to do so having committed to using natural grass for the 2018 men’s tournament in Russia and 2022 men’s tournament in Qatar, host countries with climates at least as challenging as Canada’s.

FIFA itself has recognized the inferiority of turf to natural grass. In March, FIFA’s weekly magazine published an article titled, “How Bad are the Artificial Turf Pitches?” in which the author points out that male athletes routinely refuse to play on artificial turf, deeming it unacceptable, and “widely regarded as deeply problematic.” When FIFA polled top female soccer players around the world, 77% agreed that all matches at major tournaments should be played on natural grass, while just 8% disagreed.

Viewership and interest in women’s soccer has never been higher. The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final gave ESPN its highest U.S. ratings ever for a soccer match at the time, drawing 13.5 million viewers in the U.S. And in 2015, the world will again be watching the Women’s World Cup with great interest.

Currently ranked first in the world, the United States women’s national soccer team has made our country proud time and time again. As members of the United States Senate, we are deeply concerned with FIFA’s treatment of these players. We urge you to begin good faith negotiations with these athletes, free of retaliation and with the equal treatment that they deserve.


What do you think of this letter? Think the U.S. Senators will have any influence in the matter? Would you like to see FIFA and CSA reconsider?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Is this really what our government has come to? Worrying about some meaningless soccer tournament most Americans, and the world,could not care less if it’s played on grass or turf, or is played at all, takes their time?
    Some real character on that list that would do much better taking care of their personal lives instead of worrying about what surface a soccer tournament is played on.

    • Yawn. We all knew somebody would bring this sort of forgettable, self-righeous comment to the table. How much time do you think these Senators spent on this thing? My guess is about 35 seconds… 30 seconds for their aide to explan it to them, and 5 seconds to sign.

      And if you think the motive of the Senators who signed was a detailed concern for playing surfaces or the results of a soccer tournament…. my word…. I hope you don’t vote.

  2. Growing grass in Canada is not a problem…even in the winter the coldest location Edmonton has kept a pristine grass field for CFL football….weather is not a legit excuse …years ago the CSA became chummy with the field turf people…kick backs one can suggest assured the csa was a proponent of that garbage.

  3. Their letter should have been: “Seppy, give us natural grass and we’ll dress our players in shorter shorts.” Maybe then he would actually consider it.

    That letter they sent is about as useful as toilet paper. FIFA is a honey badger unless it takes $$$ out of their (individual) pocket(s).

  4. Sure everyone would love to play on pristine grass fields, but that’s not the practical in all of the world. The climate in Canada does not allow for this, much like the Northwest and northeast US. Russia also plays on turf in certain parts. Even major tournaments like Champs League (GASP!!).

    The women have a legitimate gripe, but this should have been raised during the bidding process or shortly after the award. A year before the even is about to be held is not the time to start this battle.

    This has nothing to do with discrimination. It has everything to do with logistics of the host country. Many are arguing against Qatar logistics, and an argument can be made that it was selected improperly due to bribes, corruption, etc. I don’t think the same case can be made for Canada hosting the Women’s World Cup.

    • Logistics are scarcely a hurdle a all. There is plenty of time. For starters, there shouldn’t need to be a “battle”, and many analysts including the NY Times have shown that this can be arranged in a matter of week at a cost much lower than what host countries (and even FIFA itself) has unblinkingly paid in the past to roll out real grass for all kinds of top men’s tournaments.

      Alll FIFA has to do is say “OK fine, let’s do grass, here’s $2 million” and this is done with months to spare.

    • Your argument doesn’t hold water. Do you think it’s logistically more difficult to have grass fields in a desert (Qatar) or Canada? Do you think it’s logistically more difficult to have grass fields in Canada, or to build an entire stadium in the middle of the freakin Amazonian rainforest where every single bit of building material had to be shipped up the river by barge?

      FIFA doesn’t give an “s” about logistics for the host country. FIFA wants to make money in whatever way it can. FIFA is clearly an organization that doesn’t care about it’s women players, as evidenced by the fact the president didn’t know who Marta, one of the biggest stars in the women’s game, was at a FIFA awards ceremony.

      Maybe you’re right. Maybe the timing wasn’t the best, but maybe they started efforts right after the awarding of the games and it just didn’t start getting public attention until they had to elevate to law suit status.

      One way or another, FIFA sucks.

      • I agree with the FIFA sucks point. But that was what I was trying to get at with my Qatar reference. FIFA picked Qatar based on corruption. FIFA has approved certain types of turf for competition. It may not happen often, but men play on it too. I just don’t think you can play any type of discrimination card here. As long as there aren’t American Football lines painted on the field at the same time, i’m okay with it. This seems like an attention grab, and I hope it works. I’m all for the women’s game being successful (I coach HS girls soccer).

      • When was the last time men played on turf during the World Cup?

        The point remains: despite the amount of graft and corruption that existed during the bidding process for Brazil, Russia and Qatar, any of the bids that had specified artificial turf would have been rejected out of hand. If Qatari officials had proposed turf because of logistics, no amount of bribery would’ve saved that vote. Yes, there was corruption; however, the host countries also met the standards that FIFA has established for their playing surfaces.

        Including a pitch with natural grass in the middle of a desert.

      • +1 You articulate the important points very well, Leo.

        For whatever reason, there seems to be a big attraction on here (and other boards) to separate/isolate the discrimination inherent in this process, and subsequently marginalize it. Can’t be done.

    • The climate in Canada certainly allows for grass to grow. It may not be a long term, high use solution for these stadia, but they could absolutely install grass and have it grow sufficiently to serve the WWC and beyond.

  5. Is it me…or is the discrimination angle used in this debate kind of an attempt at a smokescreen of legitimacy, masking the real point of contention which is “We all hate turf?” Because a bunch of soccer fans (regardless of how sizeable or how vocal) don’t turn heads by complaining about fake grass. But call it discrimination, call it something worthy of being discussed by a “Human Rights Tribunal,” and now you’ve found the loophole to getting 13 US Senators (many of whom I never would’ve guessed watch soccer) to back your “ban plastic grass” argument.

    I’ve read a few write-ups of this issue (primarily on this site), and so far the most vocal point being made toward this being discrimination is “Well, the men have never played their World Cups on turf.” Is that it? Hypothetically, what if Brazil 2014 had been slated to be the first World Cup (male or female) to be played on turf? People would’ve been chapped, but nobody would call it discrimination “because the women have never played their World Cups on turf.” If you want to imply that these two events are in some way equal (or at least equivalent), you can’t be selective as to which one is the precedent for the other, in the same way that detractors would say FIFA shouldn’t be selective as to how they administer each event. They have 6, you have a half-dozen, and it all comes out in the wash.

    Listen, it’s ok to be anti-turf. I think international competitions, regardless of gender or age, should be played on the best playing surfaces available. It’s also ok to be anti-FIFA. That one goes largely without explanation. But I think a degree of honesty is needed when it comes to what this is *really* about.

    • Your hypothetical doesn’t really work — it is “chasing its own tail” in thes sense you are basically saying “Assume for a second that FIFA isn’t discriminatory and would do this to men”. The entire point is that nobody can even imagine a situation where Brazil 2014 was approved with turf. It just wouldn’t happen. The plan would’ve been sent back as “below standard” and Brazil would’ve had to amend it.

    • Perhaps you don’t understand how discrimination works.

      If you are in a position of power (e.g. the percentage of men who are heads of state, heads of international corporations, heads of religious organizations, richest people in the world vs the percentage of women who fit within these categorizations), then you cannot be discriminated against. “Discrimination” is not a matter of, “Oh, someone disagrees with me!” That’s not how it works.

      Ask yourself one question. “Would it ever enter the mind of anyone at FIFA to even propose, out loud, that the Men’s World Cup be played on artificial turf?” No matter what your reasons are for your answer: say, the Men’s World Cup generates more revenue or the host countries do not object to putting down natural grass for the men, your recognition of the fact that men would NOT be asked to play on turf is validation of the gender bias, and for that reason, the female players filed their lawsuit.

    • Actually, the World Cup staged in the US back in 1994 set a precedent for FIFA. Back then, Giants Stadium and the Silverdome both had trays of grass grown specially for the World Cup that were laid on top of the existing artificial surfaces. I don’t remember if the Cotton Bowl and Foxboro Stadium were grass fields or if they had the same type of trays of sod. Back then, clearly artificial turf wasn’t good enough for the men. I’m sure there is a paper trail of what both the organizers and FIFA said at the time.

  6. While we’re writing letters, maybe a letter to Blatter about the working conditions, slavery and deaths attributed to construction of the World Cup in Qatar is in order?

  7. “FIFA President Sepp Blatter calling artificial turf the future of soccer.”

    lol really? haha what a joke.

    Are there any top mens european league teams playing on artificial turf? are they even allowed to play on turf?

    • Blatter is the flat-out worst. Sure, turf will have a bigger place in the future. Of high school soccer. A men’s World Cup would never be played on turf.

      It’s really amazing the bad PR and legal expenses that FIFA is willing to incur over a problem that would cost them about $2 million to solve easily. Blatter has lying around that in a sugar bowl by his bed, although it’s probably caked in blood and puppy tears..

  8. The women are right that FIFA would never approve of the Men’s World Cup being on artificial turf. Then again, I would have said that FIFA would never award the World Cup to a Middle Eastern country with no soccer heritage and summertime temperatures over 110 degrees.

    • FIFA is discriminating against the men, sending them to the Qatari desert while the ladies get the pleasant temperatures of Canada. Congressional hearings are needed immediately!


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