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World Cup on faux turf discriminatory, top women players warn FIFA

Men's tournaments were on grass, sown partly with Canadian-grown seed

Toronto | Reuters — Some of the world’s top women soccer players say FIFA’s proposal to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup finals in Canada on artificial turf instead of grass is discriminatory and violates human rights.

The World Cup finals for men and women, contested every four years, have always been played on natural grass. Players and coaches believe there is a higher risk of injury on artificial turf and that it causes more wear and tear on athletes’ bodies.

In a three-page letter dated July 28 to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Canadian Soccer Association, lawyers representing players from Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, the U.S., New Zealand and Costa Rica, among other countries, said: “The proposal is discriminatory and violates Canadian law.”

“If your organizations will not engage in a meaningful dialogue on how to correct the discriminatory treatment of women players, we are prepared to pursue legal action which we are confident should succeed,” the letter said.

A FIFA spokesman confirmed the letter had been received, but declined to comment. The Canadian Soccer Association also declined to comment and referred enquiries to FIFA.

In the letter, the players, who include Abby Wambach of the U.S. and Germany’s Nadine Angerer — FIFA players of the year for 2012 and 2013 respectively — said they can suggest “several affordable ways” to host the tournament on grass.

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.

Canada will host the Women’s World Cup in June and July 2015 in six cities — Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton — where stadiums with artificial turf predominate.

One of the lawyers for the group of players, Hampton Dellinger of Boies, Schiller and Flexner in Washington, D.C., said that while all legal avenues will be pursued to convince the World Cup authorities to provide grass surfaces, a boycott is not on the table.

“Canada has very robust human rights statutes, both the provincial codes and the national charter, that ban discrimination based on gender, and I don’t think there can be any question but that this relegation of women to a second-class surface is based on gender,” Dellinger said.

— Andrea Hopkins is a Reuters correspondent based in Toronto. Includes files from Network staff.


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