To Grass or Not to Grass: Gender Discrimination at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada?

October 7, 2014

discrimination, Uncategorized

By Fei Kang – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Canada will host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Exciting, eh? The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) will see this world-class tournament played from June 5th to July 6th in 6 cities across the country next summer. FIFA, the international governing body of football, agreed to a “2-star recommended football turf” as part of Canada’s bid deal; yes, artificial turf. Once this announcement was made, confusion and public outrage began. This is because the men’s equivalent of the event has only ever been played natural grass. My egalitarian Canadian roots tell me there must be a reason for this difference … but there doesn’t seem to be one.

Abby Wambach, a striker and leading goal scorer for the US Women’s Team, has been leading the public protest. She decided to take it public when nothing came of private complaints from the players to both FIFA and CSA. Wambach is not alone in her disdain either. International male players, US congressmen and even celebrities such as Kobe Bryant and Tom Hanks have given their two cents on the matter: “Hey FIFA, the women deserve real grass. Put in sod!”

There seems to be a consensus among soccer players that artificial turf is a second class surface and inferior for international soccer. Most can attest that turf is unforgiving on the players’ bodies, especially where recovery time is precious. Grass holds moisture, turf cannot. As a result, turf tends to get unbearably hot when the air temperature rises, which can lead to less-forgiving injuries, including second degree burns. Indeed, robust biomechanical data suggests that torque and strain may be greater on artificial surfaces than on natural grass. Recent data by Drakos et al. in 2013 suggest that elite athletes may sustain injuries at increased rates on the newer 3G surfaces. Some also say that the ball simply travels differently on turf and affects the game negatively.

FIFA states that while turf has been unsuccessful in the past, recent developments have made football turf a qualified and viable “best alternative” to natural grass. FIFA only certifies 3G systems, which fulfill quality requirements like playing performance, durability and quality assurance. Turf has financial advantages as well, which is where CSA likely stands, due to the resistance to weather, ability to endure intense use and multi-sport purpose. FIFA has stated that the particular geographic and climatic conditions in Canada mean it is more expedient to play on artificial turf, and that it is “the surface of the future.” In short, FIFA a is turf cheerleader.

The protesting athletes say the decision to play the tournament on turf amounts to gender discrimination because the men would never be forced to play the sport’s premier tournament on fake grass. In fact, there are no plans to shift future men’s World Cup tournaments to turf through to 2022. In late July, 40 top players and their lawyers joined in a letter of protest to FIFA and CSA. As of Sept 27th, FIFA has yet to respond and CSA has deferred comment to FIFA. The players are now poised to take legal action in Canada. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 15(1) states:

“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on … sex.”

Additionally, under the BC Human Rights Code (and similarly enacted in every Province and Territory), a person (Section 8) or association (Section 14) must not discriminate against any person or member because of sex. The players will likely bring an action under both the Charter and Code.

Overall, it just doesn’t make sense. Even FIFA’s website out-rightly states that its certified turf is a best alternative to natural grass. So use grass? It’s the World Cup and we are not in 1915. Many questions remain: if turf is the future, why is it not incorporated in future men’s tournaments? Will the 40 players’ legal action be successful under anti-gender discrimination laws in Canada? Whatever the court says, and whatever FIFA and CSA may say, the fact is that it looks like turf is being used as experimental surface in a world-class women’s tournament. Women are being singled out. I am proud of the protesting players for their unwillingness to accept less than they deserve. We should not accept gender discrimination in international sporting events. We can do better, Canada.

 

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