More than 60 of the top female soccer players, including U.S. stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, have brought a lawsuit against the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA, the international governing body of football, asserting that the organizations’ decision to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf constitutes gender discrimination. A men’s World Cup has never been played on artificial turf and the men will play the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments on grass.
According to the players’ filing with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in Toronto, World Cup organizers are violating Section 1 of Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Code states, “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination.” The Code is a broad civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and has been interpreted to protect athletes from discrimination.
The players argue that artificial turf “fundamentally alters” the way soccer is played and exposes them to increased risk of serious injury. Morgan had commented that she decided to become involved in the lawsuit for health reasons. “Not only are they long lasting injuries, but there are long-term effects of playing on turf,” the forward for the U.S. national team says. “The achiness, taking longer to recover than on natural grass, the tendons and ligaments are, for me at least, I feel more sore after turf. It takes longer to recover from a turf field than natural grass.”
Artificial turf has been blamed for increased rates of sprained ankles, concussions, and turf burns. Moreover, a NBC Nightly News report presented evidence that the black beads embedded in artificial turf, called crumb rubber, may cause cancer.
The Women’s World Cup is seven months away and FIFA appears unmoved. The players have petitioned the Tribunal to expedite its review process, which typically takes at least one year.
The national and international debate on gender discrimination in athletics continues. If international soccer stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo threatened to join a lawsuit against FIFA over artificial turf, it is hard to imagine that FIFA, an organization projected to bring in $5 billion in revenue over the next four years, would not immediately spend the estimated $3 million it would cost to replace the turf fields with natural grass.