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Tribunal denies expedited hearing in turf case

November 7, 2014

Players who are protesting about plans to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada on artificial turf were denied a fast-tracked hearing on Friday, but were offered early mediation with the Canadian Soccer Association.

The ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario came as a group of U.S. senators wrote to FIFA urging it to reconsider the decision on the playing surface.

The World Cup will be played in six Canadian cities next June and July.

The players claim that holding the World Cup on artificial turf amounts to gender discrimination because men play football’s premier tournament on real grass.

The Human Rights Tribunal gave both sides seven days to accept mediation and the attorney for the players filed their acceptance on Friday afternoon. The CSA did not immediately reveal its plans.

In her interim decision, tribunal vice chair Jo-Anne Pickel did not address the merits of the case but acknowledged that a resolution would have to come soon. Because of the “jurisdictional complexity” of the matter, she doubted that even an expedited hearing would result in a decision on time.

“From the outset of this legal action, the players and their lawyers have said their goal is not to entertain through courtroom drama but to ensure playing conditions so that the drama and beauty of the game can be fully revealed,” said Hampton Dellinger, an attorney for the players. “Today’s decision paves the way for immediate mediation of the dispute.”

Earlier in the day, 13 U.S. senators had joined in the players’ protest. The women claim artificial turf makes them more prone to certain injuries, like turf burn, and impacts the way the game is played because the ball moves differently.

Led by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the 12 Democrats and one Republican signed a letter urging FIFA to “reconsider this short-sighted and counterproductive decision.”

“Currently ranked first in the world, the United States women’s national soccer team has made our country proud time and time again,” the senators said in the letter addressed to FIFA President Sepp Blatter. “As members of the United States Senate, we are deeply concerned with FIFA’s treatment of these players. We urge you to begin good faith negotiations with these athletes, free of retaliation and with the equal treatment that they deserve.”

The letter comes in the wake of claims that some players are being pressured to remain silent on the issue or remove their names from the legal action. The CSA has denied the allegations.

The human rights complaint, which names both FIFA and the CSA, was filed with the tribunal on Oct. 1 by a group of players including Americans Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, Germany’s Nadine Angerer, Japan’s Yuki Ogimi and Spain’s Veronica Boquete.

The senators penned a separate letter to U.S. Soccer’s Sunil Gulati urging him, in his role as federation president and member of the FIFA executive committee, to join the players in their effort to have the tournament staged on natural grass.

Officials from FIFA and the CSA have said there are no plans to change the playing surface.

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