“How can I say this is a positive way?” Wambach said during a Monday pre-ceremony press conference in reply to a reporter who asked about the issue that’s now commonly known as the “turf war.” She continued, “I think that FIFA has made their decision and they’re sticking to it. And it’s tough because as a female athlete we want to be treated equal and we want to be playing on grass.”
Wambach, who is one of more than 60 players who filed a lawsuit in the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association alleging gender discrimination over the turf decision, also indicated that the players would likely not sacrifice participating in the tournament that kicks off June 6 to protest.
“I think if you ask any player that is going to be participating in the World Cup next summer, they would say that the powers that be, logistics, the timing, it just may not happen and unfortunately for us players, there’s just going to have to be that point at which we either move on or keep fighting,” Wambach said, adding she would likely choose the former. “We are not going to get into the World Cup environment and continue to talk about it, because we’re all going to want to be winning that World Cup, and that’s just gonna be something that will take our attention away from what our real goal is at hand and it’s raising the trophy at the end of the tournament.”
The latest news is a blow for the players who continue to feel mistreated by both FIFA and the CSA, as the plan the athletes put forth on Monday deviated heavily from their original demand that all World Cup games be played on natural grass. The proposed compromise suggested only the semifinal, third-place and final matches, which are scheduled to be played at three different stadiums on June 30, July 1 and July 4, respectively be played on real grass.
“The players continue to believe a Women’s World Cup should not be singled out for field conditions men’s World Cups have never been subjected to,” states a copy of the proposal obtained by The Washington Post. “But this settlement offer represents a good-faith attempt at compromise.”
FIFA did not offer comment on the proposed compromise, but the organization did deny that the decision to install artificial turf in the stadiums had anything to do with gender.
“The Canadian Soccer Association and its National Organising Committee (NOC) proposed to use football turf for the tournament in accordance with the Laws of the Game (Law 1) and the competition regulations. This was approved by FIFA on the condition that all six venues would feature FIFA 2 Star RECOMMENDED Football Turf — the highest standard of turf which FIFA developed specifically for professional football,” a FIFA spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email. “It is also important to note that the competition regulations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup include the same article which allows for football turf to be used, subject to FIFA’s approval.”
The CSA declined to offer an updated statement on the issue, but instead offered up previous statements made by CSA President Victor Montagliani, who noted many of the venues put forth in the bid outline which came out in 2011 already operated with artificial turf.
“The claim that’s being advanced is that FIFA 2-Star turf is somehow second class. And it’s not second class. It’s a first-class playing field,” Montagliani said a conference call with the media on Oct. 15. “It’s been part of the Canadian game and it’s been recognized as appropriate. There’s no merit in our view that it’s in any way discriminatory.”
Despite both FIFA’s and CSA’s denials of gender discrimination, both the players and their lawyers vow to continue fighting as the World Cup approaches.
“We told (FIFA) how we felt openly, candidly… and FIFA heard us, I think, so hopefully something can change,” Wambach said on Monday.
“People are not taking no for answer,” Joshua Stein, one of the athletes’ attorneys, summarized for The Washington Post on Wednesday.
The players will get an extra boost of support on Thursday when a group of U.S. Senators, some of whom previously penned a note to FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation deriding the decision to use artificial turf in the Women’s World Cup, send a new letter to the world soccer governing body.
Led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the letter, which is co-signed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and will be sent Thursday, reiterates their disapproval of the plan, which they say goes beyond the turf debate. Per a copy of the letter obtained by The Washington Post:
“This is about more than the playing surface on which soccer matches are played: it is about the message we are sending to women and girls around the world. The United States Women’s National Team has been an inspiration for our country. These incredible female athletes are talented and hard-working, and they endeavor to hold themselves to the highest standards of sportsmanship and teamwork. We are proud of our players, and relegating them to fields that men would not play upon sends the wrong message to them and the world.“We urge you to continue discussions with the players, work to compromise in good faith, and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.”