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Human Rights Tribunal rules artificial turf challenge can continue

12/08/2014 03:40 EST | Updated 02/07/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - There was a win and loss Monday for both sides in the legal challenge of artificial turf at next year's Women's World Cup.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, in an interim ruling, denied the players' request that their request for an expedited hearing — which had previously been turned down — be reconsidered.

But vice-chair Jo-Anne Pickel also rejected FIFA's argument that, under international law, it had not received "effective legal notice" of the proceedings. In so doing, the tribunal ruled that the legal challenge can proceed.

The players allege that having the women play on artificial turf is discriminatory because the men play their showcase tournament on natural grass.

FIFA argues that the laws of the game permit use of artificial turf as long as it meets standards and that the surface makes sense for the Canadian climate. And rather than discriminate against women, the world governing body of soccer has spent years working to grow the women's side of the game.

After receiving the original case material and notice from the Ontario tribunal, FIFA argued that the procedure for delivery had not met relevant international treaties.

Pickel disagreed.

"In the circumstances of this case, I find that FIFA has received effective legal notice of this proceeding," she wrote in Monday's 14-page decision. "I also find that all documents so far delivered in this case have been properly delivered in accordance with the Tribunal's rules and all applicable law."

"FIFA's effort to evade the jurisdiction of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has failed," said Hampton Dellinger, lawyer for the players.

But with the tournament less than six months away, time is on the side of FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Assocoation, which doubles as the World Cup's national organizing committee.

The tribunal also has two more interim decisions to render.

An earlier offer of mediation was rejected by the CSA.

Earlier Monday, the players offered to meet FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke in Brazil to discuss their differences.

Lawyers for the players made the offer after Valcke said Friday he would only talk with the players in person. He had earlier rejected the offer of a conference call.

"The players accept your offer to meet with them and propose doing so in Brazil during the upcoming International Tournament of Brasilia," Dellinger wrote in a letter Monday to Valcke. "Please let me know the date and time you would like to meet with Abby Wambach, Marta Vieira da Silva, and others who can serve as designated negotiators for the players."

Wambach and Marta are with their U.S. and Brazilian teams in Brazil for a tournament.

Valcke had promised an "open dialogue" at Saturday's tournament draw in Gatineau, Que. But Canadian captain Christine Sinclair was the only player there.

At Friday's pre-draw news conference in Ottawa, Valcke was asked why he had turned down the conference call given the open dialogue comment in an Oct. 29 fifa.com article.

He said he would talk to players in person, but not lawyers.

"I am ready to discuss with all the players, with all the technical teams, with all the coaches. But face to face," said Valcke. "And that's what I'm ready to do ... I'm ready to travel to wherever I have to travel to do that.''

It took the players' lawyers three days to take him up on it.

An email to FIFA for reaction did not produce an immediate response.

The 2015 Women's World Cup is scheduled for June 6 to July 5 in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

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