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Players drop legal fight over artificial turf in 2015 Women’s World Cup

A group of female soccer players has mounted a legal challenge against the use of artificial turf in the 2015 World Cup.

JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A group of elite female soccer players ended the artificial turf war around the 2015 Women's World Cup, but their lawyer went out with all guns blazing.

Hampton Dellinger, a Washington, lawyer who represented the players pro bono along with other lawyers, blasted both FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association, which will play host to the tournament this summer. He said they tried to bully the women after they filed a complaint over the use of artificial turf with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Dellinger accused FIFA and the CSA of "threatening protesting players with suspension, doing everything possible to delay a final court ruling despite the players' need to know what surface the tournament will be held on so they can train accordingly, suggesting they would either defy an adverse court ruling or cancel the tournament and, most recently, rejecting the players' undeniably fair settlement offer. In the face of such irresponsible actions by FIFA and CSA, the players have elected to end their legal fight. The players are doing what FIFA and CSA have proven incapable of: putting the sport of soccer first."

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The complaint was filed with the Human Rights Tribunal because this year's Women's World Cup, which will be played from June 6 to July 5 in Moncton, N.B., Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, will feature games played on artificial turf. The women argued this was discriminatory because the men's World Cup is always played on grass.

Dellinger implied in his statement that the complaint was dropped because the field that most concerned the players, at Vancouver's BC Place – where the championship game will be played – will be replaced with new artificial turf.

Also, "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. Moreover, the players and their supporters have highlighted continuing gender inequity in sports and lessened the chance that such wrongdoing will occur in the future."

Turf will not be an issue at the 2019 World Cup because both bidders, France and South Korea, say it will be played on grass.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Dellinger said, "While the lawsuit did not end with the grass fields the players deserve, I think it was a success in many ways including highlighting how unacceptable it would be to play a World Cup final on the existing BC Place carpet. I have no doubt that the sex discrimination suit played a part in the recent announcement that BC Place will get new artificial turf. But more importantly, the legal protest showed FIFA and other sports organizations that female athletes will not passively and silently accept continuing gender discrimination in sports."

FIFA has denied threatening any of the players as a result of the complaint, and the CSA remained silent save for a statement issued by association president Victor Montagliani.

"Our goal is, and has always been, to deliver a world-class competition that leaves a lasting legacy for sport, for women and for Canada that reaches far beyond the competition," Montagliani said.

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"We are pleased to be moving beyond this discussion, so we can continue to focus on delivering the best FIFA Women's World Cup ever in partnership with our FIFA colleagues and stakeholders from coast to coast."

U.S. star Abby Wambach, who served as the face of the players' complaint, said in a statement she hopes their action inspires all female athletes to challenge discrimination.

"Our legal action has ended," Wambach said. "But 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."

Dellinger finished his statement with a direct challenge to the leadership of FIFA and the CSA: "They have embarrassed themselves and provided further grounds for reformers to challenge their current leadership. In the end, despite the challenges created by the sexism, greed and stubbornness endemic to FIFA and CSA, the players will make the 2015 Women's World Cup a success."

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