FIFA To Make Women, Not Men, Play The World Cup On Artificial Turf, And These Senators Aren’t Happy

Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe, two players challenging the decision to play the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf fields, celebrate a goal during the 2011 World Cup. CREDIT: AP
Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe, two players challenging the decision to play the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf fields, celebrate a goal during the 2011 World Cup. CREDIT: AP

A group of nine U.S. senators on Thursday renewed their calls for FIFA to reach a compromise with top international women’s soccer players who have filed a lawsuit against the organization over its decision to play 2015 Women’s World Cup matches on artificial turf.

Players including American star Abby Wambach and Brazilian great Marta filed a lawsuit against FIFA in a Canadian court (Canada is hosting the 2015 World Cup), alleging that FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association violated human rights laws that protect against gender discrimination when they decided to hold the Cup on artificial surfaces. The women assert that it constitutes discrimination because FIFA would not hold a men’s World Cup on turf; neither a men’s nor women’s Cup has been played on turf, and the next two men’s tournaments are scheduled to take place on grass.

The letter from the nine senators, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), follows up on a previous letter sent by 13 senators in November that called on FIFA to change its stance on artificial turf for the 2015 World Cup in Canada. FIFA has since stood by its decision, saying it has “no plan B.”

“Remarkably, FIFA has insisted on using artificial turf for the Women’s World Cup despite the players’ sustained objections. We believe that FIFA’s approach is sending the wrong message: FIFA literally is requiring female athletes to perform on an unequal playing field — one that it would not let men play upon,” the senators wrote.


“This is about more than the playing surface on which soccer matches are played: it is about the message we are sending to women and girls around the world,” the letter continues. “The United States Women’s National Team has been an inspiration for our country. These incredible female athletes are talented and hard-working, and they endeavor to hold themselves to the highest standards of sportsmanship and teamwork. We are proud of our players, and relegating them to fields that men would not play upon sends the wrong message to them and the world.”

“We urge you to continue discussions with the players, work to compromise in good faith, and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve,” it concludes.

The letter follows players’ efforts to forge a compromise with FIFA. This week, they said they would drop their suit if FIFA would agree to hold just four of the tournament’s matches — two semifinals, the third-place match, and the final — on grass surfaces. The proposal included plans for how FIFA could replace artificial surfaces with grass in a cost-efficient manner. The letter also follows a meeting this week between players and FIFA officials at the organization’s international award ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland. Wambach said afterward she came away with the feeling that FIFA was “sticking to” its plan to hold the entire tournament on turf despite the players’ proposal.

“It’s about doing the right thing, and I think this is the right thing to do,” Wambach, the star of the U.S. Women’s National Team, told ThinkProgress in September, before the players filed their suit. “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.”

Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also signed the letter, which is copied to Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer federation.