The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team is vying for next year’s World Cup title, but they are also preparing a lawsuit against FIFA, the international league and tournament sponsor, over its plans to switch all tournament fields from grass to artificial turf.
Fifty of the best women’s soccer players in the world, led by United States forward Abby Wombach and former Tar Heel midfielders Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath, sent a letter to FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association protesting the change.
The World Cup is scheduled to be held in Canada in 2015. The players say they have no intention of boycotting the tournament, but will fully pursue legal action to keep grass on the fields.
Hampton Dellinger, a native of Chapel Hill and former WCHL soccer analyst, is now an attorney offering to represent the players free of charge.
The women expressed their concerns of increased injury while playing on artificial turf as well as limited movement for fear of injury and loss of traction. In an interview with the New York Times, Wombach says she wouldn’t dare try any dives or headers to avoid landing painfully on the unforgiving turf.
Dellinger describes forcing the women to play on a plastic turf as “second-class treatment” to put “world-class players on an inferior playing surface” and that FIFA is in strict violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act that proscribes discrimination.
“The 2018 and the 2022 Men’s World Cups have already been slated to be played on grass surfaces,” Dellinger says. “It may seem to the casual soccer fan like not much of an issue, but in soccer the difference between turf and real grass is everything. And to single out the women, we feel that’s not only wrong but illegal under Canadian law.”
Dellinger’s firm is also planning to team with Canadian lawyers in negotiation with FIFA before pursuing a case in court.
No action or response has come from FIFA or the Canadian Soccer Association.