Soccer

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Game Over on the Turf War

29 Jan, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Women’s World Cup Soccer Artificial Turf Complaint Dropped

In the timeline of the gender equity fight in professional sports, it’s likely to be remembered as the “great turf war.” Last year, dozens of female soccer champions – including U.S. forward Abby Wambach -- filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after negotiations with FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) broke down. The players were challenging the decision to hold all events of the upcoming Women’s World Cup on artificial turf. (Men’s events are held on real grass.) Players charged that artificial turf, which is essentially comprised of ground plastic and rubber, is inherently inferior to natural grass and can lead to more injuries, particularly in slide tackling.

“Men’s World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Hampton Dellinger, at the time the complaint was filed. “The difference matters: Plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition.”

Earlier this month, the players withdrew the complaint. While FIFA and the CSA remained adamant that the games would be played on artificial turf, the organizations did make a few concessions. CSA has agreed to oversee replacement of the turf at the 55,000-seat BC Place, the location of the final match – described by players as “deplorable” – with a better alternative. In addition, goal-line technology, which is regularly used in men’s events, will be used for the first time in a Women's World Cup. Possibly because of the complaint, this will be the last World Cup to be held on artificial turf: the 2019 women’s event will be held on grass. (Both France and South Korea are bidding for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and both nations have said the games would be held on grass.)

Dellinger said the case "highlighted continuing gender inequity in sports and lessened the chance that such wrongdoing will occur in the future,” according to ESPN-W.

Wambach said in a statement that she hoped the case would underline the continuing disparity between men’s and women’s sports, and help establish balance.

"I am hopeful that the players' willingness to contest the unequal playing fields -- and the tremendous public support we received during the effort -- marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women's sports," she said.

The athletes gathered a high-profile group of supporters for the challenge, including Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and actor Tom Hanks, both of whom took to social media to show support for the women.

In December, several players who had signed the initial complaint withdrew their names, citing fear of retaliation by FIFA and CSA. Mexico’s Teresa Noyola and France’s Camille Abily and Elise Bussaglia withdrew their support for the challenge. Noyola said she had been told she would not be invited to play for Mexico unless she relented.

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