Toronto | Reuters — There are no plans to boycott next year’s Women’s World Cup but players will proceed with a gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA if forced to play on artificial turf, one of the complainants said on Thursday.
Reigning FIFA player of the year Nadine Angerer, who is among over 40 international women players suing the sport’s governing body and Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), said there has not been any talk of boycotting the month-long event.
“Our focus right now is on the lawsuit, none of us talked about anything beyond that,” Angerer, who helped Germany to two World Cups, told reporters during a conference call.
“FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association should give us the best opportunity to play our game. But we have never ever talked about a boycott of the World Cup.”
While qualifying for the June 6-July 5 tournament in Canada continues, most of the heated action has been taking place off the pitch.
The players filed a lawsuit with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal on Wednesday, claiming the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and CSA are discriminating against women by staging the event on artificial grass they say poses safety risks and alters how the game is played. [Related story]
The World Cup finals for men and women, contested every four years, have always been played on natural grass.
“We feel this is a clear-cut case of discrimination,” said David Wright, one of the Canadian attorneys for the players’ coalition that includes some of the game’s biggest names. “FIFA and the CSA are treating the women differently than they treat men. It’s the simple bottom line.
“Most fundamentally it is simply a differential degrading treatment to the women. Elite men play on grass, elite women are being told turf is good enough for them.”
The 2014 FIFA World Cup for men in Brazil was played on grass and there are no plans to shift future men’s tournaments to artificial turf. Some professional soccer leagues and some FIFA World Cup age-group matches are played on artificial turf.
The World Cup fields in Brazil were primarily bermuda grass, overseeded with perennial ryegrass for a uniform playing surface. Canadian seed firm DLF Pickseed provided the ryegrass seed mixture for all World Cup stadiums in Brazil, and for the fields in the previous tournament in South Africa in 2010.
No Plan B
Players are seeking to have real grass placed over the artificial turf at stadiums in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton that will host Women’s World Cup matches.
Lawyers for the players said technology exists to install real grass while the total cost to convert the venues would run from $2 million to $3 million.
The players have asked for an expedited hearing and expect to be in court on Nov. 26 but Hampton Dellinger, the lead U.S.-based attorney for the coalition, hopes FIFA will reconsider their position.
FIFA, however, have shown no interest in negotiating.
Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s head of women’s competitions, told reporters after a tour of one of the stadiums earlier this week that there is no Plan B and the tournament will be played on artificial turf.
Unless the courts force FIFA to make the switch to natural grass the players admit they have limited leverage without the threat of a boycott.
“Women would play on a field of glass and nails for the World Cup, they are so spirited, dedicated and mentally tough. That’s the problem,” said Carrie Serwetnyk, a former member of the Canadian women’s national team and first female player inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame. “We just know women would step up.
“The CSA and FIFA is getting away with putting the players on artificial turf and they know they can’t do that with the men. The men would boycott it. It just would not happen.
“Of course (the women) are going to show up and play but that’s not the type of tournament we want to have for the World Cup.”
— Steve Keating is a Reuters sports reporter based in Toronto. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.