SPORTS

Lawyers for elite women allege threat of reprisals in World Cup turf complaint

10/27/2014 11:20 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Lawyers for a group of elite female players challenging the use of artificial turf at the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 are alleging that the women are being pressured to drop their lawsuit.

In a letter Monday to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the lawyers say "the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and FIFA — aided by national federations — have threatened reprisals against a coalition of the world’s best female soccer players for bringing this sex discrimination action."

The women have asked the tribunal "to order respondents and their affiliates to cease all attempts to engage in or threaten reprisals against players who have joined or who are considering joining this action."

There was no immediate comment from the Canadian Soccer Association. A spokesman said one might be forthcoming Tuesday.

The players allege that Mexican international Teresa Noyola and French internationals Camille Abily and Elise Bussaglia had been threatened with reprisals.

Noyola, according to the fiilng, was told she would not be invited to play for the Mexican national team unless she withdrew her name from the legal challenge.

Abily and Bussaglia "were led to believe that their continued participation in this action would lead to retaliation by FIFA in the awarding of the 2019 women’s World Cup."

France is seeking to host the 2019 World Cup.

All three have withdrawn from the complaint with lawyers for the group saying 20 players have stepped forward to replace them. The total number now numbers 62.

"The replacement of three applicants with 20 new ones brings the players' legal coalition to over 60 members and shows that the retaliation threats — while reprehensible and legally actionable — have backfired against FIFA and CSA. Or, in soccer parlance, they have scored an 'own goal,'" lawyer Hampton Dellinger said in a statement.

The players also allege that Costa Rican internationals Diana Saenz and Katherine Alvarado, along with a third unidentified player, were told by Costa Rican Federation officials "that their participation put their positions on the team in jeopardy as a result of pressure from CSA and FIFA."

"Attempts to silence applicants serve to perpetuate the discrimination that the Human Rights Code is designed to prevent," say the lawyers for the players. "Such reprisals also infringe on the natural and legal rights of free speech and interfere with the attorney-client relationship."

The women have filed a human rights complaint that FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association are discriminating against women by making them play on artificial turf while the men's World Cup is held on natural grass.

The women includes Germany's Nadine Angerer, Japan's Yuki Ogimi and Americans Shannon Boxx, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambaugh. There are no Canadian players named to avoid conflicts with the CSA, which doubles as the tournament's national organizing committee.

FIFA and the CSA have no plans to change the playing surface, saying playing on approved turf is sanctioned under the rules of the game. The CSA has engaged an independent consultant to test the surfaces at venues in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver. The results are expected in early 2015.

The tournament runs June 6 to July 5.

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