A coalition of soccer players set to play in next year’s women’s World Cup tournament in Canada have filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over the artificial turf the organizations have decided to use in the 2015 tournament’s arenas. The lawsuit, filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal based in Toronto on Wednesday, alleges the use of artificial turf over real grass is discriminatory to female players, as male players have always played at FIFA-sanctioned international tournaments on real grass.
“Through public statements and private communications the players and their lawyers have clearly signaled to CSA and FIFA that we want to resolve the ‘turf war’ through good faith negotiations rather than litigation. CSA and FIFA have ignored these overtures. As a result, the players have no choice but to initiate the legal action filed today,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Hampton Dellinger said in a statement.
He added: “Whatever happens in court, CSA and FIFA have lost any claim to being good stewards of the women’s game — until they correct their mistake.”
The lawsuit’s introduction accuses FIFA and the CSA of not following their own policies when it comes to gender discrimination. It reads:
“CSA and FIFA’s decision to hold the tournament on artificial turf is inherently discriminatory and injures an elite group of female athletes in three significant ways: (1) by forcing them to compete on a suface that fundamentally alters the way the game is played, (2) by subjecting them to unique and serious risks of injury, and (3) by devaluing their dignity, state of mind and self-respect as a result of requiring them to play on a second-class surface before tens of thousands of stadium spectators and a global broadcast audience.”
It cites 15 legal violations and asks the court to rule that the tournament be played on natural grass.
Among the applicants attached to the suit are FIFA’s 2013 Women’s Player of the Year Nadine Angerer of Germany and FIFA’s 2012 Women’s Player of the Year Abby Wambach of the United States. Sixteen other players also signed onto the suit: Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord of Australia; Fabiana Da Silva Simoes of Brazil; Katherine Alvarado and Diana Saenz of Costa Rica; Camille Abily and Eliese Bussaglia of France; Yuki Ogimi of Japan, Jackie Acevedo and Teresa Noyola of Mexico; Abby Erceg and Hanna Wilkinson of New Zealand; Ji So Yun of South Korea; Veronica Boquete of Spain; and Alexandra Morgan and Heather O’Reilly of the United States.
While just 18 players signed on to be applicants in the lawsuit, dozens more have previously signed letters and petitions imploring FIFA and the CSA to use real grass. Even celebrities, such as Tom Hanks and Kobe Bryant, began chiming in, siding with the women.
“The game plays differently on artificial surface, not only because of the fear of injury but because it’s a different surface,” elite American player Wambach told Sports Illustrated earlier this year. “I’m feeling like this is the women’s game taking a step back.”
FIFA, meanwhile, has been resolute about its decision to hold the 2015 women’s World Cup on artificial turf. Most recently, the organization reiterated that it would do so on Tuesday.
“We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B,” FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni said (via the Associated Press). The CSA has also stood behind the decision to use artificial turf.