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2015 Women's World Cup

Australian players oppose turf at 2015 Women’s World Cup as FIFPro VP backs players

Australian players say they oppose the use of turf at the 2015 Women's World Cup. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Australian players say they oppose the use of turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

In a statement released Wednesday, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) said that FIFPro Vice President and FIFPro Asia Chairman Brendan Schwab will have the world players’ association raise women’s players’ concerns with FIFA over the use of artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The backing of FIFPro is a a positive step for the a coalition of over 40 international players considering legal action against FIFA and Canada Soccer to have artificial turf changed to natural grass for 2015 World Cup venues.

The PFA also confirmed that Australian women’s national team players oppose artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, despite a high-ranking Australian official stating otherwise.

“At the highest levels of the game the best male and female footballers should clearly be entitled to the same working conditions and the same working environment,” said Schwab.

“Football prides itself on its universal values and we can not see any justification for the world’s best players not having access to the world’s best conditions at the highest levels of the game. Football should lead the world in the promotion of gender equity, however, this decision suggests this is not a priority and as a result football sadly lags behind sports such as tennis on this vital principle.”

[MORE: Full coverage of the 2015 Turf War]

On Sunday, Football Federation Australia’s head of women’s football Emma Highwood said the federation was fine with artificial turf being used at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. “Certainly we don’t have an issue with it being played on artificial turf,” she said.

Highwood’s comments came two days after FIFA published this article about the FFA’s $500,000 grant from the FIFA Goal Project Funding to develop women’s youth soccer.

But the players do not agree, as a document obtained by The Equalizer on Monday shows. Australian forward Sam Kerr, who plays for the Western New York Flash in the NWSL, is one of the players willing to put her voice into the opposition.

“The surface totally changes the game and things as common place as slide tackling become much more dangerous on artificial turf,” Kerr said in Wednesday’s statement. “Because of this neither women nor men enjoy playing on it, especially when the climate allows for natural grass. We should be treated as equals to our male counterparts and artificial turf would never be used for the Men’s World Cup.”

Australia was, according to a FIFA statement in January, the only federation to formally submit a complaint about the use of artificial turf at the 2015 World Cup. That, however, was before legal representation was formalized by players in July.

“The misleading statements by soccer officials about the Australian players’ position are disappointing,” said Hampton Dellinger, of the U.S.-based Boies, Schiller & Flexner firm representing the players.  “It is hypocritical for Football Federation Australia to claim to support women’s soccer then try to silence its female players understandably unhappy with the gender-based discrimination proposed for next year’s World Cup.  Thankfully, the Australian players are resisting the pressure and standing with their fellow national team members from around the world in objecting to plastic pitches for a tournament that deserves the grass fields used for every prior men’s and women’s World Cup.”

At Saturday’s closing press conference in Montreal for the FIFA 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup, FIFA and Canadian Soccer Association officials had very little to say about the turf issue and held firm on their previous positions.

“According to FIFA competition regulations, the hosts have a choice to use either artificial or natural (surfaces),” Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the U-20 Women’s World Cup and FIFA Vice President David Chung said on Saturday. “So it is up to the host city to recommend to FIFA either artificial or natural. So legally it is correct for the host to either use artificial or natural (surfaces).”

Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani deferred comment to FIFA.

“The correspondence that was received has been forwarded on to FIFA legal; it’s in the hands of FIFA, who are the domain of all FIFA World Cups,” Montagliani said. “It’s in the hands of FIFA. As the national organizing committee, we have the privilege and honor to manage these tournaments, but that matter has been referred over to FIFA and as a National Organizing Committee we actually have no comment on that issue at all.”

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