More than 40 international women’s players have stepped forward and are threatening to take legal action against FIFA and its decision to allow the 2015 Women’s World Cup to be held exclusively on artificial turf in Canada.
What started as a grassroots campaign by players on social media has turned into a growing issue that FIFA will have to address less then a year before the opening kick in Canada.
When it was first announced in early 2013 that the tournament would be the first senior World Cup, men’s or women’s, to be held entirely on turf, a petition was formed by 40 of the top international players, expressing disapproval of using a “second-class surface.”
The concern of prominent names in the women’s soccer landscape, such as Abby Wambach and Nadine Angerer, have led players such as Alex Morgan, Vero Boquete and Heather O’Reilly, to seek legal counsel.
The group’s lawyers- Boise, Schiller & Flener LLP of the United States, and the Canadian firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP- drafted a four page letter to FIFA officials and the Canadian Soccer Association on July 28 (see foot of this article) stating that the use of artificial turf is “a surface widely recognized as inferior in international soccer. The proposal [of its use] is discriminatory and violates Canadian law.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter defended the use of turf fields ahead of the opening of the U-20 Women’s World Cup, stating that quality of artificial surfaces has greatly improved and that turf fields are here to stay.
“Artificial pitches are the future. Wherever football is played, all over the world, there is an increasing lack of space for training and competitive pitches,” Blatter said.
Canada’s bid the host the 2015 World Cup always included the use of turf fields and was approved by FIFA. However, no bids for the men’s tournament through 2022 include the artificial surface.
Many players have publicly spoken to the fact that natural grass is preferred to turf. The game is harder and moves faster on artificial pitches. There also seems to be a connection between playing on turf and increased risk of injuries. For those reasons, it is rarely used in international men’s games.
“The best players in the world deserve premier playing surfaces. Simply put, artificial turf is not a premier surface in the soccer world. Singling out this women’s tournament for substandard treatment is a mistake. … If your organizations will not engage in a meaningful dialogue on how to correct the discriminatory treatment of women players, we are prepared to pursue legal action which we are confident should succeed,” the letter stated.
The letter gave no indication that the players have intentions on boycotting the tournament. It did express hope that sponsors and broadcasters would heed the cause.
FIFA and CSA have refused to comment on the letter.
Here’s the letter in its entirety:
July 28, 2014
Re: Equal Playing Fields at the 2015 World Cup
Dear Mr. Montagliani, Mr. Montopoli, Ms. Nsekera and Mr. Blatter: