By CAITLIN MURRAY
A group of players expected to play in the Women’s World Cup next summer, including Abby Wambach, have already made it clear they oppose the tournament being played on artificial turf.
They’ve spoken to the media. They’ve signed a petition. And now, they might sue over it.
A letter sent via legal counsel on behalf of a players group, including Americans Wambach, Alex Morgan and Heather O’Reilly, threatened legal action for discrimination against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association as hosts of the tournament if the fields aren’t changed. The players group includes international stars, such as Germany’s Nadine Angerer and Spain’s Vero Boquete.
“Should you refuse to voluntarily fix the field situation, legal recourse is available and will be utilized,” the letter said. “Consigning women to a second-class surface is gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law.”
The 2015 Women’s World Cup, as planned, will be the first senior World Cup, men’s or women’s, to be played entirely on artificial turf. The 2010 World Cup for the men in South Africa introduced artificial fibers to reinforce grass fields, but subsequent tournament bids through 2022 all have exclusively included grass.
FIFA reportedly refused to comment on the letter, but a spokesman did point out Canada’s bid had always included turf and was approved by FIFA. Canada was the only country to bid to host the 2015 World Cup after Zimbabwe, the only other candidate, canceled its bid.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter defended artificial turf Monday as he prepared for the U-20 Women’s World Cup, which kicks off Tuesday on all-artificial fields.
“It used to be the case that playing on artificial turf was a nightmare,” Blatter told reporters. “The quality was poor; it was no better than a carpet. But the quality has improved vastly since then. 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.”
CSA President Victor Montagliani has not commented on the letter. CSA announced earlier this year Canada will bid to host the 2026 men’s World Cup, but has not yet indicated whether that bid will include grass or artificial turf fields.
The letter, dated July 28, hinted players aren’t planning to boycott the 2015 World Cup, but hoped sponsors and broadcasters may heed the cause.
“Regardless of the outcome of our discussions or litigation, the players we represent are committed to participating in Canada 2015,” said the letter, which was published by The Equalizer. “Nonetheless, proposing that world-class female athletes be singled out to play on a second-class surface is wrong and should be unacceptable to your organizations, your broadcast partners, and your corporate sponsors.”
The letter had asked CSA and FIFA to reply by Monday, but by the evening Monday, there had been no reports of a response.
The legal team, which includes attorneys from both the U.S. and Canada, argued turf represents unequal treatment for women and a higher chance of injury.
“By singling out women for differential and unequal treatment,” it said, “you not only subject the world’s top players to heightened risk from an array of turf-related injuries, but you also force them to experience the legally cognizable indignity of playing the game’s most important event on what your organizations admit to be an inferior surface.
The U-20 Women’s World Cup begins Tuesday with the U.S. facing Germany at 7pm ET on ESPNU.
What do you think of this development? Do the soccer players have a case? Should FIFA step in? Should the fields be grass for the 2015 World Cup?
Share your thoughts below.