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World Cup turf concerns prompt lawsuit from women's soccer coalition

10/01/2014 03:57 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
A coalition of elite female players from around the world filed a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 women’s World Cup on artificial turf.

The legal action was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal based in Toronto, and the proceedings are against the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and FIFA.

“Two months ago, attorneys for a coalition of leading players informed officials from the Canadian Soccer Association [CSA] and FIFA that forcing the 2015 women’s World Cup to take place on artificial turf rather than grass was not only wrong but also constituted illegal sex discrimination,” Hampton Dellinger, attorney for the players’ coalition, said in a statement on Wednesday.

 “Men’s World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf. The difference matters: plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition.

“Through public statements and private communications the players and their lawyers have clearly signalled 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. 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 players’ coalition is led by American Abby Wambach, and also includes U.S. teammate Alex Morgan, Germany's Nadine Angerer, Brazil's Fabiana Da Silva Simoes and Spain's Veronica Boquete.

On Tuesday, FIFA said there was no Plan B beyond playing the 2015 Women's World Cup of soccer on artificial turf despite the threat of a lawsuit.

In response, FIFA has retained an independent consultant to examine the playing surface at venues in Ottawa, Moncton, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Asked why a consultant had been retained, if there were no plans to change the surface, Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's deputy director of the competitions division and head of women's competitions, said: "The quality of the turf is of concern to many people.

As you know there's different type of turf. There's older ones, newer ones, and you can categorize them based on some testing. And I think for all of us, including the NOC (National Organization Committee) the Canadian Soccer Association, it will be helpful if we can say — proven let's say by an independent company — what kind of turf and quality it is."

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