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Players withdraw legal case against FIFA, CSA over artificial turf

Abby Wambach USWNT by Derik Hamilton USA TODAY


The battle for natural grass is over and artificial turf will make its debut at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

The group of players taking legal action against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over alleged gender discrimination has withdrawn its case, the group announced Wednesday. Although it appeared artificial turf would be used at the Women’s World Cup this summer regardless of the legal proceedings, the case’s withdrawal clears up any doubts.

The Abby Wambach-led group of about 50 players hit a serious snag in November when the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that had been asked to review the matter declined to expedite proceedings. With just six months until the tournament kicks off and no movement on the case, it seemed inevitable it had become a losing battle for the players.

“On behalf of the players, I want to thank all who aided our fight for natural grass fields at the 2015 World Cup, including our volunteer lawyers from Canada and the United States,” Wambach said in a statement. “Our legal action has ended. But I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields and the tremendous public support we received during the effort marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.”

Wambach and other players, including American Alex Morgan and German Nadine Angerer, called the use of artificial turf fields at the Women’s World Cup gender discrimination because no men’s World Cup has been played on artificial turf. The next two men’s World Cups in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 are also planned to be played on natural grass.

Artificial turf has been used in youth World Cup tournaments, but it has never been used at a senior World Cup, men’s or women’s.

The players argued that artificial turf changes the way the game is played and leads to more injuries. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said last year at the U-20 Women’s World Cup, however, that artificial playing surfaces have been improving saying, “Artificial pitches are the future.”

Although FIFA has insisted the tournament will continue as planned, a spokeswoman did tell reporters last week at the NSCAA convention in Philadelphia that there have been concerns about the playing surface at B.C. Place in Vancouver and that it will be upgraded before the tournament.

FIFA issued a statement late Wednesday, with FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke saying that in his conversations with the players behind the lawsuit, they shared FIFA’s vision of “making this the greatest FIFA Women’s World Cup ever.”

“This is a goal they share with FIFA and we are totally committed to providing the best possible surface to enable everyone to enjoy a great footballing spectacle,” Valcke said in the statement. “We – the participating teams and the organizers – can now all focus on the preparation and promotion of the biggest event in women’s football this June in Canada.”


  1. That never ending sense of entitlement from some athletes iswell known, but involving a Human Rights Tribunal on their little hissy fit is right down criminal. As If the tribunal doesn’t have much more important issues to deal with than the playing surface for a tournament nobody cares about.
    Pretty shameful, ladies,

  2. “The Abby Wambach-led group of about 50 players hit a serious snag in November when, AFTER A LENGTHY AND HEARTY LAUGH, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that had been asked to review the matter declined to expedite proceedings”

  3. FIFA explained that they would put age restrictions on the Olympics for the women, and this case was dropped faster than you can say messi.

  4. “The Abby Wambach-led group of about 50 players hit a serious snag in November when the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that had been asked to review the matter declined to expedite proceedings.”
    Did they really try to get an Human Rights organization involved on this? Just plain disgusting. That’s a new low even for these entitled bunch.

    • Yea, how dare they expect equal treatment as men. Women these days….I remember back in the good ol’ days when they were lucky just to be able to play a sport! Now “these entitled bunch” (editors note: excellent grammar here) think that equality is a human right!

      • Damn straight. Who do these women think they are? Real athletes who have trained and play soccer at a high level? Players who receive endorsements and play soccer as professionals?

        I can understand wanting to have this case settled out of court. But to call these women entitled is low. They deserve to play on grass at the most important event on the international calendar.

  5. Travesty. I am in amazement when FIFA gets away with this kind of crap. Fifa basically said we could care less about women. Along with the while Qatar/Russia fiasco, why haven’t major sponsors grown a pair and stood up for human rights?

    • I disagree, it’s the national soccer organizations that sold women’s soccer short by telescoping down to just one bid — Canada — before the voting even started. FIFA didn’t have a choice besides denying all bids and then what? In a competitive bidding process it might say something, but this was one bid left and presumably the process was make sure the bid met basic rules and then a formality vote. They’re not discriminating against women, they’re playing the only card they were dealt.

      FWIW Russia may have at least one turf stadium, it’s not inherently discriminatory just because it’s turf.

      • All the pitches in a World Cup need to be identical for an even playing field across all venues, so all the fields in Russia will be natural grass for the men’s tournament.

      • Don’t get me wrong, I detest turf. But this is like, was no one reading the bids at the time they were filed? The time to complain about turf was when it was two or one bids left, the vote hadn’t happened, and there was a good chance this would result. If FIFA then overrules complaints you might argue they’re discriminating because they’re not considering constituent complaints. But it was a long time after the bid vote before I heard a peep.

        In contrast, people were beefing about Qatar in particular immediately.

      • I can understand that there is an incongruity between the time when the bids were announced and when the legal suit was made. The women should have made their disagreements public immediately after the Canadian federation came out with their bid.

        But this delay does not mean that the women are not being discriminated against. Simply because a complaint was lodged at a later date does not impact the injustice that is being done. We all know the “rules” FIFA has for various bids, “rules” that can be bent, broken, and reworked as the process goes along. This is inherently discriminatory because all of the games will be played on an inferior substance that even FIFA has acknowledged as a bare substitute for grass.

      • No two pitches are identical.

        USA World Cup 1994 — There were grass pitches, and there were fields of grass on trays that got laid on top of artificial turf. Hardly identical surfaces. Some were played outdoors and some indoors. Then, there were the stadiums that had almost no room in the corners to line up corner kicks.

      • Wow, fischy, thanks for the lesson on the indiscernibility of identicals. Let’s not be thick, please. All the women are asking is to play on a natural pitch, a grass pitch, having the same length as a regulation pitch. The women are asking for basic dignity that comes from being a professional competitor in sport–to play on a safe, ordinary surface that all professionals–no matter their gender–would agree upon as acceptable. The men would never all an entire World Cup to be played on a non-natural surface; the women should have the same right to play on the surface of their choosing.

    • Ya, I didn’t see this as discrimination and if it truly was it’d be hard to prove. They probably dropped the case because they knew it was long shot.

      As mentioned, the bid included Artificial Turf because that’s what Canada put in their bid; not FIFA. Also, in 2010 FIFA designated a turf rating system to determine which turf is acceptable.

      Lastly,There were no other bids. It was a take or leave it bit.

      • Yes, the turf was included in the bid, but FIFA could have asked the bid to be changed so that natural surfaces were predominate. Both the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA are to blame for putting the women on an inferior surface.

        Sure, there might be a ratings system for turf. But how many men would want to play a World Cup on turf? After the enormous evidence the women provided against players’ safety and desire to play on turf, it would have been the best thing, to honor the professor female athletes from across the world, to play the World Cup on grass. Sure, it may have taken another round of bids to gain the necessary support to host the WWC. But this is what you do when you are a professional world body. FIFA is not such a body, and the CSA is damaging the women’s game by hosting it at such shoddy facilities.

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