Players end legal battle against artificial turf at WC

Jeff Kassouf January 21, 2015 38
Players have pulled their legal action against the CSA and FIFA regarding articial turf. (Joe Nicholson | USA TODAY Sports)

Players have pulled their legal action against the CSA and FIFA regarding articial turf. (Joe Nicholson | USA TODAY Sports)

The fight against artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup is officially over. Players have ended their legal challenge against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association, The Equalizer can confirm.

A group of international players led by U.S. forward Abby Wambach challenged the use of artificial turf playing surfaces as gender discrimination, filing a complaint in October in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Players said that playing on the “inferior” surface constituted gender discrimination, since every men’s World Cup has been played on natural grass. The 2015 World Cup will be the first senior event on turf. Youth World Cups have previously been played on turf.

“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 Wednesday. “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.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of the 2015 Women’s World Cup Turf War]

Players were denied an expedited hearing on the case – which was needed since the World Cup kicks off on June 6 – and the Canadian Soccer Association rejected the Tribunal’s proposal for mediation. FIFA continually rejected to acknowledge the legal battle, saying it hadn’t been properly served papers. In December, before the World Cup draw, FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke became visibly heated in a press conference, calling claims of discrimination “nonsense.”

The players fighting against turf, who include Spain’s Veronica Boquete and Germany’s Nadine Angerer, said throughout the process that they would not boycott the World Cup.

Last week in Zurich, at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, Wambach presented FIFA with a final attempt at a compromise: a World Cup on turf, except for the semifinals, the third-place match and the final, which would be played on natural grass. FIFA rejected the proposal, effectively spelling the end of the fight.

“Unfortunately, for us players, there’s going to be that point in which we just have to either move on or keep fighting,” Wambach said.

Players first threatened legal action in August, as first reported by The Equalizer. The Canadian Soccer Association maintains that their bid – the only official bid for the 2015 Women’s World Cup – was clear from the start about the use of turf. In October, CSA president Victor Montagliani said that artificial turf is a “first-class playing field.”

In October players presented a proposal to change every match playing surface to natural grass, something they say would cost $3 million.

On Friday in Philadelphia, FIFA director of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni said the discussion about turf was over.

“The end of that discussion is that I think we can take it off,” she said. “The topic can be over now,” Haenni said. “We’ve had so many talks about it. The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada will be played on turf.

Haenni says every game surface and training surface will be FIFA 2-star certified turf, and that every field will be inspected this spring. BC Place in Vancouver, site of the tournament final on July 5, will reportedly upgrade its controversial turf in May.

Said the players’ attorney, Hampton Dellinger, in a statement:

“Since a coalition of the world’s best female soccer players initiated legal action, the tactics of FIFA and CSA have included: threatening protesting players with suspension, doing everything possible to delay a final court ruling despite the players’ need to know what surface the tournament will be held on so they can train accordingly, suggesting they would either defy an adverse court ruling or cancel the tournament and, most recently, rejecting the players’ undeniably fair settlement offer.  In the face of such irresponsible actions by FIFA and CSA, the players have elected to end their legal fight.  The players are doing what FIFA and CSA have proven incapable of: putting the sport of soccer first.”

Dellinger says that FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association threatened reprisal against players from several federations taking part in the legal action.

The 2015 Women’s World Cup kicks off on June 6 across six cities in Canada. The tournament will feature an expanded field of 24 teams for the first time.

  • It was never going to work from a legal standpoint. But it kept the issue alive.

  • ctsmith73

    Hopefully this sends a message going forward.

    • Calci0

      Such as?!?

      • ctsmith73

        Oh I don’t know. I guess I’m naively thinking this will set a precedent.

        • Steglitz49

          A precedent for what? Don’t drive while drunk?

    • Defensor

      The message is this: players should not even bother to organize against FIFA’s wishes. For now it’s the women, but later when the men are forced to play on plastic grass there will be no chance to prevail over FIFA’s dictat. The precedent has been set.

  • FawcettFan14

    The smug, inflexible bureaucrats win. Congrats. Chalk one up in the win column for FIFA. It did their public image no favors though, which was already very low to begin with.

    I’m proud of the female players for taking a stand and bringing inequality to light, even if it came too late. Had they started the legal process earlier maybe the result would’ve been different. Now let’s shift the focus to making sure this never happens again, at least until artificial turf is much better than it is today.

    • It’s FOOTBALL, not soccer

      Why blame Fifa if the irresponsible host country CANADA is not able to provide real grass???

      STOP apply next time to host a big event if you’re not able to provide the requirements in this case real grass.

    • Eric Bauer

      I don’t see it as a win for FIFA. I’m not sure if most of the women ever expected to actually win this fight–FIFA is just too powerful. What this did was highlight the prevailing sexist attitude that FIFA has towards female players. Millions of people heard about this fight, and it’s just one more black mark on FIFA’s terrible reputation. I think they’ll think about it a little harder before making the women play on turf at the next WC.

      • Steglitz49

        The next two WCs will be played on grass. This minor hiccup will soon be forgotten, not least in the country who hoists the cup.

        If there is a collective memory it is that Canada could not be bothered to provide grass for the ladies. Cheapskate Canadians.

  • Steglitz49

    All credit to Abby and her fellow American players to take this battle. The NWSL mainly play on artificial surfaces while their main contender, Germany, play on natural grass. Several other countries mainly play on grass like France and England.

    Whether the tactic that these ladies pursued was the most efficient and whether they might have been able to cut a real deal we shall never know, but all credit to their unselfish attitudes.

    • guesto

      The challenge was not mounted by only Abby and her “fellow American players”

    • Rdalford

      credit to all the players, Abby, Marta, Angerer etc (not just usa players) who tried to call attention to this unequal treatment.

      • It’s FOOTBALL, not soccer

        They probably paid Marta & Angerer. Those two players know it’s not FIFA’s fault. It’s only North Americans who put blame on FIFA because their “Soccer Association” is irresponsible to provide real grass….

  • rufan

    From the players’ attorney, Hampton Dellinger, statement:
    “..suggesting they would either defy an adverse court ruling or cancel the tournament and,…”
    Had we previously read about the latter claim – threat of cancelling the Cup?

    • Steglitz49

      The legal eagles are whitewashing why they turned out to be turkeys.

    • HM

      I’m sure it was in the cards if a ruling went against them. We’re speaking of FIFA here, an organization not accountable to the law, or any outside authority.

      • Steglitz49

        Had grass been required, FIFA might have found another country to host on grass or, more likely, simply cancelled the tournament.

  • kernel_thai

    If fans r unhappy with the WC being on turf then either dont by tickets or demand a refund on the ones uve purchased. The only way to get FIFA’s attention is money and CSA didnt spend all this money to host a WC to give Canadians something to do.

    • Steglitz49

      The fact that FIFA has OKed kick-off times that are detrimental to fans in Europe (and Asia for that matter) tells you all that you need to know.

      • kernel_thai

        Well Asia would be tough but they usually try to schedule day matches to help the European viewers.

        • Steglitz49

          In OG-12, Sweden agreed to a shift in the kick-off time at the request of Japanese TV. Let’s see what happens in WC-15.

          England play France and Germany play Norway in group matches. I can’t be bothered to try to figure it out, but let’s trust that kick-off is not too late, though girls <16 might not get to stay up.

          Tough luck, fans of the future, and even more tough luck for WoSo in those countries because without fans we don't have a sport.

    • guest

      OK I am not buying WC tickets – but not very likely to impact FIFA.

    • Calci0

      I highly doubt the next location will have this issue….

    • Silver Frost

      I was thinking about driving up to Moncton for a game, but not now. It would mean I was endorsing FIFA, CSA, and discrimination against women.

    • guest42

      Indeed. Don’t give your money to the CSA–the Cheapskate Soccer Association–and don’t support FIFA corruption. Spend your soccer viewing dollars on the NWSL, buy a season ticket, support your favourite club, travel to the soccer mecca of Portland, witness the soccer wizardry of FCKC at Swope Park, or behold the emerald glory that is the Maryland Soccerplex, but do not hand over your cash to those crooks in Zurich. Watch the WC on TV and boycott Canada this summer.

      • Eric Bauer

        I believe that the NWSL is a FIFA governed league.

  • Calci0

    This case, plus picking Qatar for the 2022 “SUMMER” WC, I don’t follow FIFA sometimes….

  • Elaine

    This lawsuit needed to be done. Silence on this issue would have been worst. I applaud the effort from all who was involved. Lessons were learned here, at least for me, regarding this entity called FIFA.

  • Wear Nikes Drink Gatorade

    It never had much, if any, chance of success. Spending a couple million to rip up turf fields and put in grass to improve playing conditions is just too much to ask, unlike demolishing the homes of a 100,000-plus Brazilians, which is okay. The CSA gets to show up the Americans, which is the most important thing.

  • SupportTheWomen

    Every tweet about the WWC and during the tournament should contain the hashtag #ShameFIFA as an ongoing form of protest

  • It’s FOOTBALL, not soccer

    What can you expect from North America since their women’s league mainly play on artificial surfaces….. Why blame FIFA if the irresponsible host country ( Canadian Soccer Association ) is not able to provide grass instead of turf???

    STOP apply next time to host a big event if you’re not able to provide the
    requirements, in this case real grass. Not only is this unprofessional
    from Canada but also arrogant….. LOL They even sue FIFA *shake my head*

  • sweetjazz3

    Maybe we can organize a boycott of FIFA’s sponsors? Spread the word through social media to other soccer fans to specifically avoid buying products from any company that pays FIFA for advertising, particularly the major sponsors. Until someone punches FIFA in the wallet, they are going to bully the players and stuff their pockets with dirty money.

    • AlexH

      . I think the most likely result would be companies just pulling out of woso which would be counter productive.

  • Movement

    What a shame.
    It isn’t right, but the world is not always fair as we’ve learned many times in the past.
    I guess we all will be missing our green grass this time around.

  • Movement

    Even Adolf Hitler is pissed off at this news, and he’s pissed at FIFA ….

  • Jerome

    Just play the games!

  • guest

    The WC should be a showcase for the best in women’s soccer, but now the beautiful game will be the bounce…bounce..bounce game. A shame.