A lawsuit has officially been filed by a group of women’s international soccer players against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association regarding the use of artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The players say that it is gender discrimination to not be playing on natural grass and that men would never have to play a World Cup on artificial turf.
The lawsuit was filed in an Ontario tribunal court on Wednesday. “This differential treatment constitutes a violation of section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code,” the lawsuit reads.
FIFA Deputy Director for Women’s Competitions Tatjana Haenni said on Tuesday that the 2015 World Cup will be played on turf and that “there’s no Plan B.” She is in Canada along with an independent group assessing the turf of all six venues to be used next year.
Players first threatened FIFA and Canada Soccer with a lawsuit in late July, but wanted to give the organizations time to respond. The group says that playing a World Cup on artificial turf — what they say is an “inferior” surface” is discriminatory. Every senior men’s World Cup has been played on natural grass. Recent youth World Cups, including the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada last month, have been staged on artificial surfaces. All six venues for next year’s World Cup are slated to have artificial turf.
Among the players on the list are past and present FIFA World Players of the Year Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer (current title holder), U.S. forward Abby Wambach and Brazil’s five-time World Player of the Year Marta. Also named in the lawsuit are U.S. internationals Alex Morgan and Heather O’Reilly, Spain captain Veronica Boquete and France’s Camille Abily.
“It’s very disappointing that FIFA hasn’t really even acknowledged or given us any response to our statement,” Morgan told The Equalizer in September. “It seems like CSA and FIFA are kind of playing the blaming game. So we would like some sort of response and some sort of explanation, because I feel like it is taking a step backwards so hopefully we get the explanation sooner rather than later.”
Players have said that they will not boycott the World Cup.
A FIFA distributed survey from 2013 showed that 77 percent of players prefer the World Cup to be on natural grass.
Every men’s World Cup since 1930 has been played on natural grass. Youth World Cups, including the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup in August in Canada. The lawsuit points out that FIFA spent $2 million to install natural grass over artificial turf in Detroit and New Jersey for the 1994 men’s World Cup.
Hampton Dellinger, an attorney representing the players, released the following statement on Wednesday afternoon:
“Two months ago, attorneys for a coalition of leading players informed officials from the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) 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. 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.
After the spectacular success of World Cup 2011 and the 2012 Olympics, CSA and FIFA could help women’s soccer reach even greater heights. Instead, the leaders of CSA and FIFA are embarrassing the game and, even more, themselves. The gifted athletes we represent are determined not to have the sport they love be belittled on their watch. Getting an equal playing field at the World Cup is a fight female players should not have to wage but one from which they do not shrink. In the end, we trust that fairness and equality will prevail over sexism and stubbornness.”