Soccer Stars Unite to Fight Against 2015 Women’s World Cup on Turf

September 29, 2014
By

For those who are following the fight to get the 2015 Women’s World Cup moved from turf to grass and don’t feel like reading the whole 15-page legal brief, here are the salient details…

September 23, 2014

Victor Montagliani and Peter Montopoli
Canadian Soccer Association
237 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1R2
c/o Kelly Santini LLP

Joseph S. Blatter
Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”)
FIFA-Strasse 20,
P.O. Box 8044 Zurich, Switzerland
c/o Legal@FIFA.org

RE: FINAL NOTICE BEFORE PLAYERS ARE FORCED TO INITIATE LEGAL ACTION

Dear Mr. Montagliani, Mr. Montopoli and Mr. Blatter,

As you know, discussion of the 2015 women’s World Cup is an early item on the agenda for FIFA’s Executive Committee meeting this week. Thus, it seems timely to provide final notice that an international coalition of leading players will initiate legal action against your organizations unless you agree immediately to discussions with us on ways to fix the
unacceptable playing conditions proposed for FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015…

Sincerely,

Hampton Dellinger
Hampton Dellinger
Boies, Schiller & Flexner
5301 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20015
hdellinger@bsfllp.com
(202) 274-1152

INTRODUCTION

Discrimination of any kind against a…private person or group of people on account of…gender…is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

Article 5.2, Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) By-Laws (2013); Article 3, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Statutes (2014).

1. With the decision to hold the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 soccer tournament on artificial turf as opposed to natural grass, CSA and FIFA have failed to abide by their own rules and have engaged in discrimination against female players.

2. Notwithstanding their rhetoric decrying gender discrimination, CSA and FIFA propose that next summer’s World Cup – the preeminent event in women’s soccer – take place on literally unequal playing fields. Instead of the natural grass surfaces on which all prior men’s and women’s World Cups have been played, and that are already slated to be used for the 2018 and 2022 men’s tournaments, CSA and FIFA have directed that the upcoming women’s tournament be played on artificial turf. This inequity will occur throughout the World Cup and will culminate when the final is played at a site whose artificial turf has been widely criticized as substandard.

3. CSA and FIFA’s decision to hold the tournament on artificial turf is inherently discriminatory and injures an elite group of female athletes in…significant ways: (1) by forcing them to compete on a surface that fundamentally alters the way the game is played, (2) by subjecting them to unique and serious risks of injury…

9. There are several feasible ways for CSA and FIFA to organize next year’s matches consistent with the Human Rights Code. Readily achievable solutions include simply moving the games to existing grass fields within a host city already designated by CSA or installing temporary grass fields that cost a small fraction of the budget for the tournament (as was successfully done for the 1994 men’s World Cup).

11. The Applicants are among the world’s best female soccer players…Two of the Applicants are the FIFA 2013 Player of the Year Nadine Angerer of Germany and the FIFA 2012 Player of the Year Abby Wambach of the United States. Applicants also include, among others, Samantha Kerr…of Australia…Verónica Boquete of Spain; and Alexandra Morgan and Heather O’Reilly of the United States.

16. FIFA is the international governing body of soccer. FIFA has organized and run the men’s World Cup since 1930 and the women’s World Cup since 1991. FIFA’s annual revenues topped $1.3 billion in 2013 and it reportedly enjoys cash reserves of more than $1.4 billion. FIFA officials have made numerous visits to Ontario to plan the 2015 World Cup with CSA.

25. Earlier this year, FIFA’s own magazine noted that “non-grass pitches are widely regarded as deeply problematic” and quoted an observation from a leading soccer reporter that the “clear view” of elite soccer players is that artificial turf fields are unacceptable. (FIFA, Mar. 14, 2014.)

26. Elite players have refused to play on plastic pitches, including the specific ones currently proposed for next year’s World Cup. As FIFA Weekly reported: “International sides and prestigious visiting club teams like Manchester United routinely refuse to play on artificial surfaces, insisting on grass overlays.” FIFA admits that Vancouver’s BC Place – selected for the World Cup final – is “particularly controversial” and has detailed the refusal of multiple elite male players to participate in club matches at the site. (FIFA, Mar. 14, 2014.)

29. The players’ perceptions about the drawbacks and risks of elite soccer on artificial turf are also well-founded. Turf exposes players to injuries that do not exist on natural grass, such as skin lesions, abrasions and lacerations. The pictures below show turf injuries suffered by professional women players. Sydney Leroux of the United States and Samantha Kerr of Australia reportedly suffered these injuries on FieldTurf, the same surface that will be used in four out of the six World Cup venues. Nadine Angerer of Germany also suffered an abrasion on a synthetic surface.

turf

32. Research by the National Football League has corroborated these studies[demonstrating a higher risk of serious injury], finding that elite players were more susceptible to injuries on artificial turf – even on the newest artificial surfaces – than on grass. After evaluating over 3,000 knee and ankle sprains, the study found that these types of injuries were 22% more likely to occur on FieldTurf than on grass, a difference the authors called “statistically significant.” (The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Oct. 2012.)

35. As for FIFA, it ensured that the just-completed 2014 World Cup in Brazil was staged on grass fields, as was every men’s World Cup since the first World Cup in 1930. FIFA has similarly ensured that the men will play on grass fields for years to come, regardless of any logistical challenges. The 2018 men’s World Cup, in Russia, will be played on grass, despite Russia’s cold and challenging climate. Likewise, the 2022 men’s World Cup, in Qatar, will feature grass surfaces, even though Qatar is a desert country with extreme drought conditions, where temperatures routinely exceed 110 degrees in the summer.(FIFA; FIFA.)

36. The 1994 men’s World Cup exemplifies the lengths to which host countries and FIFA have gone to ensure the men play soccer’s premier event on grass. For that event, FIFA installed a real grass field over the artificial turf of the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.FIFA spent over $2 million dollars on the effort. The Meadowlands laid down 5,400 tons of soil over its AstroTurf to hold a grass overlay. Now, twenty years later, the cost for similar grass fields are relatively inexpensive, with one expert calling the job for Canada “laughably easy.” (New York Times, Jun. 5, 1994; New York Times, Aug. 21, 2014.)

42. FIFA’s Blatter has a long history of denigrating female participation in world soccer. In 2004, Blatter urged women players to play in “tighter shorts,” explaining that “female players are pretty” and could “play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball.” (BBC, Jan. 16, 2004.)

43. More recently, Blatter explained to reporters on August 5, 2014, during the Women’s U20 World Cup in Canada, “Football is very macho. It’s so difficult to accept [women] in the game.” A September 2014 Sports Illustrated article entitled, “With Women’s World Cup on Horizon, Sexism Remains Part of FIFA Culture,” detailed additional examples of sexism and discrimination within FIFA’s leadership. The article also quotes from the latest issue of the official FIFA magazine, which featured a profile on Blatter including the following sentence: “Football is a simple game that only becomes complicated once you attempt to explain the active and passive offside rules to your wife.” (The Guardian, Aug. 5, 2014; FIFA, Aug. 5, 2014; Sports Illustrated, Sep. 12, 2014.)

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