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Turf war breaks out over 2015 World Cup

Players demand Winnipeg, other hosts, use grass

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The world's best female soccer players are demanding Winnipeg and other Canadian stadiums replace artificial turf with natural grass for the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada.

Legal counsel for 40 top female international soccer players made the demand in a July 28 letter.

Lawyers told FIFA (soccer's international governing body) and tournament host the Canadian Soccer Association to pony up and pay for natural-grass surfaces in the six cities -- including Winnipeg -- that will host 2015 Women's World Cup games. They threatened legal action if the field situation is not fixed.

The group's lawyers, working pro bono from the Canadian firm Osler, Hoslin & Harcourt LLP and the American firm Bois Schiller & Flexner LLP, said artificial turf is "a surface widely recognized as inferior in international soccer," and forcing the women to play on it when men do not is "gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law, including human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

There is artificial turf in the six venues of the Canadian host cities including Winnipeg's Investors Group Field, Vancouver's BC Place where the final is to be played July 5, 2015, Moncton, Ottawa, Montreal, and Edmonton.

'At the end of the day it comes down to money' -- Abby Wambach, former USA national team player

"The FIFA executive committee confirmed at its meeting in March 2013 that the matches in the tournament can be played on turf, under the condition that pitches in the stadiums and at the training sites may be artificial, provided that they are all of the same quality and meet FIFA requirements," a spokeswoman from the FIFA media department stated in an email response to the Free Press.

FIFA acknowledged receipt of the players' letter, but she said there would be no further comment.

FIFA has a 103-page document outlining its standards for playing surfaces.

Canada, the only country that bid to host the 2015 Women's World Cup, had proposed to use artificial turf from the outset, which FIFA approved.

Federal Status of Women Minister Dr. Kellie Leitch said in Winnipeg Friday she has no problem with women in the World Cup playing on artificial turf. Premier men's soccer teams such as Manchester United have played on artificial turf in the past, Leitch said.

"I think that Canadians should be proud of the world-class facilities that we have," said the minister.

The Manitoba Soccer Association and the CSA declined comment, deferring to FIFA. A CSA spokesman said FIFA will be inspecting all venues again this fall to ensure all field meet the FIFA standards.

The matter was first raised in a March 22, 2013 story on the women's soccer news website the Equalizer by Abby Wambach, a former USA national team player and 2012 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.

"At the end of the day it comes down to money," Wambach told the Equalizer.

"If FIFA really wanted to have games on grass, they would; it would just cost more. They would lay the sod down for the tournament, get it to stick, and if the stadiums had artificial surface prior, then you replace it with artificial surface after the tournament is done."

The players' letter stated men's World Cup games are on natural grass, so the women's games should be as well.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter stated at a news conference in Toronto earlier this month that the quality of today's turf, with granulated rubber surfaces, is much better than the old green carpets of the 1980s.

The players' letter notes that field experts have been consulted and "there are several affordable ways to host the 2015 World Cup on acceptable grass surfaces."

The letter had requested a response by Aug. 4, but none has yet been received.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2014 A11

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