It wasn’t an empty threat. And it certainly wasn’t a joke. 40 of the top international world players have made good on a threat to take legal action against FIFA for its use of artificial turf in next year’s Women’s World Cup.
FIFA can no longer ignore the campaign of Abby Wambach and other women’s players from across the soccer landscape, as the group filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Ontario tribunal court against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA).
The argument behind their case- gender discrimination. The women cite FIFA’s first use of artificial turf in a senior World Cup a violation of the Ontario Human Right’s Code, which prohibits discrimination based on gender.
“Two months ago, attorneys for a coalition of leading players informed officials from the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA that forcing the 2015 women’s World Cup to take place on artificial turf rather than grass was not only wrong but also constituted illegal sex discrimination,” Attorney for the group, Hampton Dillinger, said. “Men’s World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf. The difference matters: plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition.”
The women are requesting the lawsuit be expedited with the looming date of World Cup drawing closer. They hope the ruling will allow time for real grass to be installed into the six World Cup stadiums before kickoff in June of 2015. FIFA and CSA have until Thursday, October 9 to respond.
Dellinger believes that FIFA would have to spend $2 to $3 million dollars to replace the turf with natural grass.
“It is a drop in the bucket in terms of Fifa’s coffers,” Dellinger said. “Canada is one of the richest nations on earth.”
FIFA insists the artificial turf is the way of the future for the soccer world, and has endorsed Canada’s plan to use turf in the tournament since 2011, when the nation presented its bid to host the event.
“We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B,” said Tatjana Haenni, Fifa’s head of women’s competitions.
FIFA was warned of legal action when the Wambach and representatives of 11 other international teams, sent a letter to the governing body in July. The letter stated the players were misinformed when a player survey was issued in March of 2014. They believed there response, 77 % in support of natural grass, would impact which surface would be used in the tournament.
Artificial turf is seen as substandard playing surface that drastically changes the play of the game. The ball moves faster, bounces differently and the risk of injury greatly increases when playing on the surface.
This lawsuit may be one of the last weapons the women have against FIFA has they have no future plane to boycott the tournament.
“Our focus right now is on the lawsuit,” Geraman keeper and 2014 Player of the Year Nadine Angerer said on a conference call with reporters. “None of us talked about anything beyond that. I think the FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association should give us the best opportunity to play our game and show our best performance and give us the best opportunity. But we’ve never talked about boycotting the World Cup.”
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