Lawsuit accusing Fifa of gender discrimination withdrawn

Attorney for the players claimed players threatened with bans as a result of court action

A group of elite players has withdrawn a lawsuit that accused Fifa of gender discrimination over its decision to play this summer's Women's World Cup on artificial turf.

The suit, filed under Ontario's Human Rights Code in October, was also directed at the Canadian Soccer Association and came from names including American star forward Abby Wambach.

The players argued the tournament in Canada should be played on grass, as every men’s World Cup has been, but it will go ahead on synthetic pitches.

Wambach, a 34-year-old forward and former Fifa world player of the year, said in a statement on Wednesday: “On behalf of the players, I want to thank all who aided our fight for natural grass fields at the 2015 World Cup including our volunteer lawyers from Canada and the United States.


“Our legal action has ended. But I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields — and the tremendous public support we received during the effort — marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.”

The tournament takes place from June 6th to July 5th.

American attorney Hampton Dellinger, who was representing the players, said in a statement published on the Sports Illustrated website that players had been threatened with bans over their court challenge.

He said: "Since a coalition of the world's best female soccer players initiated legal action, the tactics of Fifa and CSA have included: threatening protesting players with suspension, doing everything possible to delay a final court ruling despite the players' need to know what surface the tournament will be held on so they can train accordingly, suggesting they would either defy an adverse court ruling or cancel the tournament and, most recently, rejecting the players' undeniably fair settlement offer."

It had been mooted by the players that, as a compromise, the latter stages of the tournament could be played on grass. However Fifa ruled out that prospect.

Dellinger added in his statement: “In the face of such irresponsible actions by Fifa and CSA, the players have elected to end their legal fight. The players are doing what Fifa and CSA have proven incapable of: putting the sport of soccer first.

“Fifa and CSA ... will fail to host a discrimination-free tournament. They have embarrassed themselves and provided further grounds for reformers to challenge their current leadership. Those that enabled Fifa and CSA to engage in discrimination and retaliation through their actions or silent acquiescence, particularly national soccer federations, should also be held to account.”

Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said in December it was "a nonsense" to suggest playing the tournament on artificial turf could be considered discriminatory.

He added on Wednesday, after the lawsuit was withdrawn: “Over the last months we — myself included — have personally engaged with players and technical staff from the qualified teams to address their concerns and doubts. What was very clear from the meetings with the players was their desire and enthusiasm about making this the greatest Women’s World Cup ever, and to ensure that they have the best possible conditions to perform well.

“This is a goal they share with Fifa and we are totally committed to providing the best possible surface to enable everyone to enjoy a great footballing spectacle.”

Valcke added on FIFA’s website: “We — the participating teams and the organisers — can now all focus on the preparation and promotion of the biggest event in women’s football this June in Canada.”