Pitching a battle: players file discrimination complaint

Ontario human rights tribunal the venue for turf war against FIFA, CSA

Lawyers for players wanting the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 to be played on grass instead of artificial turf want the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to hear their case before the end of November.

In documents filed Oct. 1, lawyer David Wright of Ryder Wright Blair and Holmes LLP asked for an expedited hearing by Nov. 26. Ontario was the chosen jurisdiction because the Canadian Soccer Association and the 2015 tournament’s National Organizing Committee are both based in Ottawa.

“We feel there is a strong case to expedite. The Tribunal has a unique opportunity to ensure that discrimination is prevented from occurring, as opposed to be left with trying to remedy the effects of discrimination after the fact,” Wright said.

In his letter to the tribunal, Wright explained the case:

“Artificial turf is a substandard surface that fundamentally alters game play and creates a heightened risk of injuries on the artificial turf surfaces, including turf-specific injuries such as turf burn or turf toe and knee or ankle sprains and tears. The use of turf devalues the players’ dignity, state of mind, and self-respect by requiring them to play on a second-class surface before tens of thousands of stadium spectators and a global broadcast audience. Requiring the female athletes to play on a substandard surface while their male counterparts have been, and continue to be, afforded the best surface for their tournament is gender based discrimination.”

The application lists 2013 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Nadine Angerer of Germany, 2012 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Abby Wambach of the U.S. and players from Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea and Spain. Notably missing are players from Canada, the host country.

The complaint notes the CSA “has been a male-dominated organization throughout its history. Of the current board, only three of the 13 members are women. It also mentions that in 2010, women’s national team players hired a lawyer and considered complaining to the Court of Arbitration for Sport because members of Canada’s men’s national team were better paid.

The application seeks an order to require that the tournament be played on natural grass, either by installing grass pitches at designated venues or moving games to natural grass pitches. It proposes installation of a permanent grass pitch reinforced with synthetic fibres at B.C. Place Stadium, the site of the July 5, 2015 final. On the alternative, it wants a temporary grass surface.

“The applicants are not concerned with how the discrimination-free playing surfaces are achieved, only that it is accomplished,” said the application.

FIFA and CSA have been adamant that the tournament will be played on the synthetic surfaces as originally proposed in the bid and that there is no backup plan. Representing the CSA is Vancouver lawyer Joe Arvay.

If the tribunal agrees to hear the case this fall and it rules in favour of the players, the question then becomes who pays? FIFA is a notoriously wealthy organization, especially in the months following the Brazil 2014 World Cup, but, like the International Olympic Committee, enjoys being subsidized by host nations.

Would FIFA offload the duty to the CSA, which would then turn to Canadian governments for a bailout, thus diverting money from amateur sport (including grass fields in communities in the host country)?

Will broadcasters have any say in the grass versus artificial turf debate? The fields at B.C. Place, Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Investors Group Field in Winnipeg and TD Place in Ottawa are also used by Canadian Football League teams. Even though standard work will be undertaken to erase the white lines and coloured logos on those fields, it may not be enough to ensure the Women’s World Cup is played on esthetically pleasing green surfaces. The B.C. Place pitch has suffered burns from pyrotechnics and endured substantial stress in 2012 with the failure of the original Terracover system to protect the field of play during trade shows and concerts.

Read the full application below:

UPDATE (Oct. 10): CSA filed its reply on Oct. 9. That document is below. More to come…

Application Sec 24 Schedule A

2014 10 09 Response to Request to Expedite Proceedings

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