Lawyers representing players in the fight against artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup have asked the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to reconsider its decision to deny them an expedited hearing.
Adjudicator Jo-Anne Pickel on Friday denied the players their request for an expedited hearing, stating that she is “far from certain” that there is enough time to render a decision within a few months that would “provide the applicants with the main remedy they are seeking if they are successful in this case.” [Read full ruling here]
The main argument of the players’ lawyers in Monday’s request for reconsideration, which was obtained by The Equalizer and can be read here, is that the ruling was made under the false pretense that the Canadian Soccer Association would partake in mediation. On Friday, hours after Pickel’s ruling was released and included a note that said the CSA “indicated…that they agree to take part in mediation,” the CSA stated that it is not willing to participate in mediation.
Players claim in their original filing that the use of artificial turf for their sport’s pinnacle event is gender discrimination, noting that no men’s World Cup has ever been played on artificial turf. The group of players is now at 60, according to lawyers, although only 15 are listed in the interim decision document.
At this point the players’ battle is uphill at best. FIFA still has not acknowledged its place in the dispute, saying it has not been properly served paperwork. The CSA’s refusal of mediation leaves the players’ side hopeful it can get the tribunal to reconsider its decision, but the clock is ticking. The World Cup begins June 6. Players, including U.S. striker Alex Morgan, understand that, too.
“I still think that there could be something done by FIFA, but as of right now, we’ve changed our focus to just getting ourselves ready for the World Cup,” Morgan told The Oregonian on Wednesday. “If the fields are changed to grass then that’s great because we fought for that for so long, but if it’s turf we have to deal with that and fight that battle again at a later time. For now, our focus is really only on the World Cup.”
Lawyers claim a new development proves the CSA is contradictory, having obtained information that Canada previously provided FIFA with intentions to bid on the 1986 and 2010 men’s World Cups, both of which would have been played on grass. The CSA said in last week’s initial response that it has never bid on a men’s World Cup. On Monday it issued to the tribunal a clarification that in 1984 it submitted a losing bid for the 1986 World Cup, which was originally slated for Colombia.
Citing a June 1, 1996, Vancouver Sun article with then-Canadian Soccer Association COO Kevan Pipe, players’ lawyers say Pipe (ergo the CSA at the time) talked about the ability of the CSA to replicate the United States’ 1994 World Cup methods of growing grass inside dome stadiums. The Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan featured grass for the 1994 World Cup. Pipe says in the article that “it was proven in the  World Cup that grass can be grown in an indoor dome stadium without detriment to the players or quality of play.”
Players’ lawyers are asking that the CSA and FIFA immediately release the CSA’s 1986 World Cup bid and 2010 notice of interest documents.
The Canadian Soccer Association denies any discrimination, saying the players’ claims are “without merit.” The CSA says that turf is a “first-class surface.” The CSA also argued against an expedited hearing – which players’ lawyers requested be Nov. 26 – because venues for the 2015 Women’s World Cup have been publicly known for over 18 months.
The CSA in a response last week said that “it is not feasible to move the Competition to grass fields or to install grass fields over the turf surfaces. It would be “impractical and likely impossible to reconstruct the various venues,” the CSA said. FIFA bylaws require all surfaces at a World Cup be uniform.
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