Are Turf Fields Second Class? Women Soccer Players Claim FIFA Discrimination

FIFA is facing potential legal action from star women soccer players in light of news that they plan to host many of the 2015 Women’s World Cup games on artificial turf field sites. The players are arguing that the field accommodations are unlawful discrimination; the men’s World Cup has always been hosted on grass, which is better than the “inferior” artificial turf surface.

In the letter, obtained by The Equalizer and confirmed to have been delivered to FIFA and Canada Soccer, the players’ lawyers argue that the use of “a second-class surface 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.”

Wambach first voiced her opposition publicly in March 2013, telling The Equalizer: “We’ve worked so hard as female athletes – not only here in the United States, but internationally – to grow the game and in my opinion I think this is taking a step back. All of the men’s international players around the world would argue the same point. A lot of these guys will not play on an artificial surface because it is an injury-prone surface and I don’t blame them.”

The lawsuit has interesting implications for Ultimate players and tournament organizers, who often have to split up teams, pools, and divisions across multiple field sites. Recent marque USA Ultimate tournaments — last year’s Pro Flight Finale and Club Nationals, and this year’s Chesapeake Invite, amongst others — have contained multiple sites, sometimes containing different surfaces. There isn’t a uniform approach in Ultimate for how to allocate better field space amongst participants. The increased push for spectators adds another element to balance: Do you now want to put the best teams on the best fields?

Of course, for many living in urban areas, artificial turf is the norm rather than the exception. FIFA continues to defend the use of the surface.

“There was a time that playing on so-called artificial turf, grass – it was a nightmare,” Blatter said. “It was a nightmare because there was not the quality; it was just a carpet put on concrete, as they played at a certain time in the North American Soccer League in the ‘80’s. But now the quality of the turf, or the artificial grass, has improved very much, and it is definitely – it is the future.”

Blatter cited spacing issues and climate concerns as reasons for the use of turf around the world. He said that the younger generation has now grown up on artificial turf, making them potentially more accepting.

“This is for the future,” he said. “If now there is a category of players or coaches, they are not used to this new technology, which is this turf. They say at the first instance, they say it’s not good. But it’s good.”


  1. Sean Childers

    Sean Childers is Ultiworld's Editor Emeritus. He started playing ultimate in 2008 for UNC-Chapel Hill Darkside, where he studied Political Science and Computer Science before graduating from NYU School of Law. He has played for LOS, District 5, Empire, PoNY, Truck Stop, Polar Bears, and Mischief (current team). You can email him at [email protected].

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