This summer’s Women’s World Cup will be played on artificial surfaces, rather than natural grass, after a group of international women’s soccer stars withdrew their gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association.
The players’ lawsuit, filed in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, accused FIFA and the CSA of gender discrimination, arguing that elite men’s teams would never be forced to play on artificial turf. Every Men’s World Cup since 1930 has been played on natural grass. The players also noted that artificial turf will increase injury risk and change how games are played
Fighting FIFA was always an uphill battle for the more than 80 players, including U.S. star and all-time international scorer Abby Wambach, who originally brought the legal action. Beyond having access to greater resources, FIFA and CSA tactics against the players allegedly included threatening players with suspension. A judge found FIFA’s alleged threats credible enough to allow the lawsuit to be amended to add reprisals against FIFA to the complaint. However, the tribunal refused to expedite the players’ suit and FIFA appeared unwilling to compromise
In order to allow all teams ample time to prepare for the surfaces, the players dropped the lawsuit. Playing on soccer’s biggest stage apparently outweighed the risks, and, therefore, they never seriously considered a boycott.
A lawyer for the players, Hampton Dellinger, said the case “highlighted continuing gender inequity in sports and lessened the chance that such wrongdoing will occur in the future.”
“The players’ united, international effort to protest discrimination has had a positive impact,” Dellinger stated. “The deplorable artificial surface at BC Place, the site of the final, will be replaced. Goal-line technology will be used for the first time in a Women’s World Cup and we know that the 2019 World Cup will be held on grass.”
“Our legal action has ended,” Abby Wambach said in a statement. “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.”
The tournament is scheduled to kick off on June 6.