Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani hit back at accusations that the use of artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup is gender discrimination, calling the claims “hyperbole” and “misinformation.”
“That is the biggest form of misinformation I have ever heard in my life,” Montagliani said during a Vancouver Board of Trade event, referring to gender discrimination accusations. “Those of you who know me know there would (usually) be a few more adjectives before that.”
Montagliani went on to tell reporters that the threat of lawsuit is “typical hyperbole” and said Canada “might be the only federation that invests more in the women’s game than we do in the men’s game.” He said the CSA spends more than $4 million a year on national women’s programs, nearly double the $2 million-plus spent annually on men’s programs.
His comments mark the first significant remarks from a CSA official since a group of about 40 players retained legal counsel last month in order to have next summer’s tournament played on natural grass. Currently, all six venues for 2015 have artificial playing surfaces.
The group of players seeking change claimed in a July 28, 2013, letter sent to FIFA and the CSA and obtained by The Equalizer, that the use of “a second-class surface is gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law, including human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” (View the entire letter here.)
Montagliani’s remarks on Thursday come two days after lawyers representing players claimed FIFA misled players into thinking that their responses to a March 2013 survey regarding artificial turf at major tournaments would be factored into the decision on playing surfaces at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
But in a response to The Equalizer on Friday, a FIFA spokesperson refuted that players were misled in 2013:
“The purpose of this survey was to gather information from elite female football players regarding their opinions and views on football playing surfaces. The results are being used to guide future research and development regarding football surfaces.
“The results of the survey were released in November 2013. As we communicated to you previously, FIFA approved the National Organising Committee’s proposal to use football turf for the tournament prior to this, including the decision by the FIFA Executive Committee at its meeting in March 2013 that the pitches in the stadiums and at the training sites should be of the same quality and meet the necessary FIFA requirements.
“FIFA continues to work closely with the NOC in all aspects of the preparations for Canada 2015 to deliver a fair, quality competition while leaving a legacy for sport, for women and for Canada that reaches far beyond the event.”
FIFA has previously abstained from comment on the issue, other than acknowledging receipt of the July letter and vice president David Chung’s brief comments in Montreal last month. Montagliani, sitting next to Chung, deferred comment to FIFA at the time.
Hampton Dellinger of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, one of two law firms representing players in the battle, said Friday in response that “FIFA’s claim now that the 2013 survey was solely for ‘research and development’ is contradicted by the survey’s own language wherein FIFA promised that players’ views would be ‘taken into account when planning future tournaments.’ The ‘future tournament’ that mattered most in 2013 was the 2015 World Cup.”
Dellinger also noted, in response to Montagliani, that the Canadian women’s national team nearly boycotted ahead of the 2011 Women’s World Cup due to “ad-hoc compensation” and lack of support for the team, which almost caused then coach Carolina Morace to walk out prior to the World Cup (she left after the tournament, in which Canada finished last).
Canada midfielder Sophie Schmidt said on Thursday that every player at any age would prefer natural grass, but she chose her words carefully.
“We’re trying not to get distracted by this,” she said. “We’re completely, 100 percent focused on preparing for the World Cup and trying to win the World Cup here at home, no matter what surface we play on.”
The Canadian men’s team recently didn’t play on turf for World Cup qualifiers because the prefer grass surfaces. Montagliani recently called the men’s World Cup “the big World Cup.”
“When asked yesterday whether it would be possible to install grass fields for the 2015 World Cup, Mr. Montagliani flippantly stated that he did not know, because ‘he is not a technician.,'” Dellinger said. “A two-minute Google search would teach Mr. Montagliani (if it were true that he did not already know) that grass fields at sites with pre-existing artificial turf (including roofed stadiums) are easily installed in dozens of different ways. It is affordable and there is plenty of time.”
Dellinger referenced recent articles detailing the installation of temporary grass for the 2013 Women’s European Championship and the use of grass indoors at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
The Women’s World Cup runs from June 6 through July 5 in six Canadian host cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton. The final match will take place at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
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