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Women's World Cup "turf war" heats up as players prepare to sue FIFA

Lawyers prepare to file lawsuit based on gender discrimination after FIFA refuses to acknowledge letter.

Jeff Vinnick

After receiving no response from FIFA to their demand of natural grass for the 2015 Women's World Cup, lawyers for the 40+ players are preparing to file a lawsuit in the next week against the soccer organization as well as the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). As this news came Friday, FIFA responded by announcing they would be sending an independent team to Canada to inspect all fields to ensure it was of the highest quality, but this decision does little to address the root cause of the lawsuit: the decision to play on turf, rather than the condition of said turf.
FIFA has all but ignored the letter until their actions today but the player's head attorney, Hampton Dellinger, admitted a lawyer associated with the Canadian Soccer Association responded, but did not make any indication the CSA was prepared, or willing, to install grass to the six stadiums the Cup games will be played in. It is important to note Canada's proposal for the 2015 games indicated games, including the Final to be held at BC Place, would be played on turf.
While sexism has been obvious from FIFA President Joseph Blatter (which might be a topic for another day), an interesting decision is to file the lawsuit with the spotlight on gender discrimination rather than FIFA providing an "unsafe work environment." While the increased risk for injury is mentioned in the draft, the focal point of the lawsuit is on discrimination, which allows the legal suit to be filed in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, based on the argument the decision to play on turf violates Canada's own discrimination laws.
CSA President Victor Montagliami has voiced his belief that the gender discrimination claims are unfounded since Canada invests more money in their women's soccer program than the men's. (One may only wonder if this would be the case if the women had not returned to Canada with bronze medals at the 2012 Olympics.) CSA General Secretary Peter Montopoli's comments in Canadian Soccer News back on January 30, 2012, included as part of the final notice before filing lawsuit, emphasized the importance of having the men play on grass; "On the men's side, if we're talking World Cup qualification matches, then you have to look at the surface that you're playing on...It has to be grass...I think the other part is our coaching staff and players prefer grass. There's a preference for that."

However, Canada has voiced their intention to bid on the 2026 Men's World Cup, which based on FIFA's history and Montopoli's comments would likely see the men playing on grass surfaces.

**Editor's Note**

Montopoli's comments were added to this article to clarify the original concluding statement (Canada has voiced their intention to bid on the 2026 Men's World Cup, which of course they have said will be played on natural grass) which was a conclusion the author drew using his comments.