The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Women’s World Cup players withdraw ‘turf war’ lawsuit against FIFA, Canada Soccer Association

Abby Wambach of the United States attends a press conference prior to the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards in Zurich on Jan. 12. (Ennio Leanza/AP/Keystone)

The Women’s World Cup “turf war” is officially over. A group of players who filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association alleging gender discrimination over the decision to use artificial turf instead of real grass was withdrawn on Wednesday, the players’ council confirms. This means the quadrennial tournament will go on this summer as planned, with every match taking place on an artificial surface.

“The players are doing what FIFA and CSA have proven incapable of: putting the sport of soccer first,” Hampton Dellinger, one of the players’ attorneys, said in a statement sent to the Washington Post.

Fighting FIFA was always an uphill battle for the more than 60 players, including U.S. star Abby Wambach, who originally brought the legal action to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal last year. Besides a mismatch in resources, FIFA and CSA tactics against the plaintiffs allegedly involved threatening players with suspension. The judge found FIFA’s alleged threats of action against the players’ concerning enough to allow the lawsuit to be amended to add reprisals to the complaint that was ultimately withdrawn on Wednesday.

Wambach indicated last week that out-of-court negotiations with FIFA had hit a wall, as well. Some may say they never really got started. When presented with a plan that suggested installing real grass for only the semifinal, third-place and final matches, opposed to the whole tournament, FIFA would not budge from its original decision to allow the use of artificial turf, according to Wambach.

“How can I say this is a positive way?” Wambach said during a press conference before FIFA’s annual Ballon d’Or awards on Jan. 12. “I think that FIFA has made their decision and they’re sticking to it.”

FIFA has long maintained that the decision to play the upcoming tournament on artificial turf was made by the CSA, and it was approved according to rules and procedures that are the same for both the men’s and women’s World Cup tournaments.

The players and other critics have never agreed with that justification, however, and have instead viewed the issue through a lens of gender discrimination, noting that every men’s World Cup, including the next two tournaments in 2018 and 2022 in Russia and Qatar, respectively, has been or will be played on real grass.

“I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields — and the tremendous public support we received during the effort — marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports,” Wambach said in a statement sent to the Washington Post.

The tournament is scheduled to kickoff on June 6.