A group of top women’s soccer players from across the world on Wednesday sued the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, alleging gender discrimination around the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which Canada will host in June. NBC Sports first reported the lawsuit, which top players, including American stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, had threatened for months over FIFA and the CSA’s decision to hold the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf fields, a decision the players say makes the game more dangerous for them and would never happen for the men’s World Cup.
The lawsuit filed in Ontario by more than 40 international women’s players claims that the decision to hold the World Cup on turf is “inherently discriminatory” and violates Canadian human rights laws for three major reasons: that it changes the way the game is played, poses “unique and serious risks of injury,” and requires them to play on a “second-class surface.”
“This differential treatment based on sex constitutes a violation of section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code,” the lawsuit states.
FIFA officials said this week that they would play the Women’s World Cup on turf and that “there is no plan B.”
The suit cites pictures from players to show that playing on turf causes more injuries, including “skin lesions, abrasions, and lacerations,” and scientific research showing that turf is harder on players’ bodies, particularly knee and ankle joints.
The players have pointed to the fact that men’s club and international players regularly have their voices heard when they don’t want to play on turf, as many clubs and international teams that tour the United States and Canada have required venues to lay natural grass surfaces over artificial turf before they will play (the Canadian men’s team refused to play on artificial turf during 2014 World Cup qualifying). The women, however, say that FIFA has ignored their concerns and a survey taken at a tune-up tournament last year in which more than three-quarters of women’s players said they did not want to play their marquee tournament on turf. Every men’s World Cup in the past has been played on natural grass, and each of the next two is scheduled to take place on grass too.
“It’s about doing the right thing, and I think this is the right thing to do,” Abby Wambach, the star of the U.S. Women’s National Team, told ThinkProgress in September. “We have to fight this fight for this World Cup and World Cups in the future. We have to make sure FIFA knows this is not OK. And they know it’s not OK. If you were to ask all of them, they know that they would never do this for the men.”
Hampton Dellinger, the attorney representing the players, said in a statement Wednesday that the players hoped to resolve the issue with FIFA and the CSA “through good faith negotiations rather than litigation,” but “have no choice” but to take legal action because FIFA has ignored them.
“After the spectacular success of World Cup 2011 and the 2012 Olympics, CSA and FIFA could help women’s soccer reach even greater heights,” Dellinger said in the statement. “Instead, the leaders of CSA and FIFA are embarrassing the game and, even more, themselves. The gifted athletes we represent are determined not to have the sport they love be belittled on their watch. Getting an equal playing field at the World Cup is a fight female players should not have to wage but one from which they do not shrink. In the end, we trust that fairness and equality will prevail over sexism and stubbornness.”