TORONTO - Players challenging the use of artificial turf at next year's Women's World Cup in Canada are pushing to speak to FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke at the tournament draw in Ottawa later this week.
And they want to discuss goal-line technology and prize money at the showcase soccer tournament as well as the playing surface.
The lawyer for the players says if they do not get to speak to the FIFA executive, the entire Australian team will join the rebel faction whose legal challenge over artificial turf is currently before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The players have jumped on Valcke's commitment to keeping lines of communication open.
"We will again welcome open dialogue at the official draw on Dec. 6 in Ottawa," Valcke said in an Oct. 29 article on fifa.com.
"I personally, will attend (the draw) alongside our pitch expert and medical teams, and I am sure that in this way we will be able to address all concerns and doubts so that all of the participating teams can focus on their preparation for the biggest event in women’s football."
A FIFA spokesman subsequently reiterated that Valcke, who will also attend a news conference Friday in Ottawa ahead of Saturday's draw, is willing to talk.
"The FIFA general secretary is already in contact with players and members associations and will meet with all the team representatives present during his stay on the occasion of the official draw," the spokesperson said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Now it appears it is just a question of how.
The lawyer representing the players spearheading the legal challenge says stars like American Abby Wambach, Germany's Nadine Angerer, Spain's Veronica Boquete, and Brazil's Marta cannot be in Ottawa for the draw due to "commitments on other continents."
They have proposed a conference call Thursday or Sunday.
"In addition to discussing playing surfaces and goal-line technology, FIFA and CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) can also address any questions the players have about the prize money available for the women's tournament," lawyer Hampton Dellinger wrote in a letter Monday.
"It is the players' hope that these issues can be satisfactorily addressed so that legal action is no longer necessary. However, should the pending case need to go forward, the entire Australian women’s team is prepared to join the over 60 players already participating."
The players also offered to add broadcasters and "any others you would like to invite" including a mediator on the call.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter is not scheduled to attend Saturday's draw.
The 2015 tournament, to be played from June 6 to July 5 in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, is to be played exclusively on artificial turf. FIFA argues that the use of the surface is permitted as long as it meets standards and that turf makes sense in the Canadian climate.
The women argue in their challenge that making them play on an artificial surface — "second-class competition conditions" — is discriminatory because the men play their showcase tournament on natural grass.
"It could well be that sooner rather than later the men’s World Cup will also be played on artificial pitches," Valcke responded in the Oct. 29 article.
So far the Human Rights Tribunal has rejected the players' request for an expedited hearing, offering "early mediation" instead. The players accepted but the offer was turned down by the Canadian Soccer Association, which doubles as the national organizing committee for the tournament.
The legal team representing the players has tried to expand the debate by bringing in other aspects of the women's tournament that differ from those at the men's World Cup to bolster its discrimination argument.
The issue of tournament prize money is the latest to be added to the list.
The men's World Cup is FIFA's cash cow.
The 32-team tournament in Brazil featured total prize money of US$476 million with Germany receiving $35 million as winner. Teams that did not make it past the group stage each received $8 million.
Participating associations also got $1.5 million apiece to help prepare.
The total purse of the 2011 women's tournament was $7.6 million with the winning Japan side collecting $1,075,000. Each of the 16 teams received at least $325,000.
The 2007 edition of the Women's World Cup was the first to feature prize money.
FIFA has yet to confirm whether goal-line technology, used in Brazil, will feature in next year's women's event, which will number 24 teams.
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