Secretary general of FIFA Jerome Valcke will speak with players and coaches at Saturday’s World Cup draw in Ottawa, Canada, regarding the controversial use of turf at next year’s tournament in Canada.
Such a meeting, which first reported by CNN, would be the first response from FIFA to players since they opted to take legal action in October.
Players claim 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. They also say there is an increased risk of injury on turf. Players brought their complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, but in November were denied a request for an expedited hearing.
The Canadian Soccer Association maintains that players’ claims are “without merit,” while FIFA remained steadfast that the 2015 World Cup will be played on turf. FIFA never responded to the players’ legal claims, stating that paperwork was never properly delivered.
FIFA argues that turf is the only possible surface for Canada’s rough winter climate, which FIFA says can’t properly support grass fields. Canada’s bid to host the 2015 World Cup was selected as unopposed winner in 2011, and planned from the start to include at least some artificial turf.
Hampton Dellinger, one of the players’ lawyers, told The Equalizer on Monday that U.S. striker Abby Wambach and Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer — past and current FIFA World Players of the Year, respectively — along with Spain midfielder Vero Boquete have offered to speak with Valcke this week over the phone since they are spread out across the world for playing commitments. Angerer is in Australia playing in the W-League with Brisbane, while Wambach is close to departing for Brazil with the U.S. national team.
Valcke will not speak with Dellinger or any lawyers while in Ottawa. Valcke said in an Oct. 29 interview on FIFA.com that he welcomes “an open dialogue” at the draw. Dellinger responded last week, requesting in a letter that FIFA, the Canadian Soccer Association and even World Cup sponsors join players and their legal counsel for a discussion at the draw.
Valcke will be in Ottawa later this week for the World Cup draw, during which the 24 nations which qualified for the World Cup will be randomly placed into six groups of four.
Dellinger says he and his legal team are also looking into pay discrimination if the prize money for the 2015 World Cup “is not fair to players.” Earlier this year, Germany’s men’s team took home $35 million of a $358 million prize money pot for winning the World Cup.
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