The stars who sued FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association never had a case, even if using artificial turf at this summer’s Women’s World Cup remains disgustingly offensive. But it doesn’t offend because turf sucks (it doesn’t) or because soccer should always be played in the same immutable conditions (it can’t). It was offensive because the same decision would have never been made with the men’s event.
That, unfortunately, is pure speculation, but it’s speculation so obvious I shouldn’t even have to point out that no senior men’s tournament has been considered for artificial surfaces, let alone actually held on them. Have any of the numerous World Cup bids launched during the history of artificial surfaces ever put forth a non-grass field? It doesn’t matter. In court, an argument needs to have more grounding than “But, but …!”
Players’ counsel seems to have finally conceded the point on Wednesday, with the plaintiffs withdrawing their complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. They’d hoped the case would lead to grass fields at this summer’s World Cup.
“In the face of such irresponsible actions by FIFA and CSA, the players have elected to end their legal fight,” lawyer Hampton Dellinger said in a statement, even though that sentence makes no sense. If the other side’s actions are so deplorable, why are you giving up? Oh, that’s right. Because you had no case, even though lawyer-speak spun it a different way.
(Seriously, read Elizabeth Cotignola’s piece again. This outcome was a long time coming.)
“The players are doing what FIFA and CSA have proven incapable of,” Dellinger explained, with Sky Sports failing to note if he included a sarcasm emoji. “[They’re] putting the sport of soccer first.”
As much as that sentence is utter bullshit, it also hints at the main problem with the players’ tactics: It was always a public relations ploy, albeit one to be waged in the courtroom. And weakly waged, at that. The players filed their complaint extremely late in the process, something the HRTO frowned upon, despite knowing about the turf issue long before. And in that complaint, they exaggerated the deleterious effects of playing on the surface.
Ultimately, though, the players are right to want to play the 2015 World Cup on grass, even if the way they sought recourse was doomed. Rather than recycling old images of Sydney Leroux’s scraped up shins at an unrepresentative Dilboy Stadium (crap fields are crap fields, regardless), the player’s side should have been speaking to the larger issues. Canada was the only nation to complete the bidding process for the 2015 World Cup, so it’s not like FIFA’s Executive Committee had much of a choice. Perhaps more than a grass-vs-turf debate, this is about a lack of options.
FIFA has fostered a world in which no other nations were competing with the turf-mongers to host what’s become a lucrative competition. But rather than bring that issue to the forefront — the issue of FIFA not caring enough about the women’s game — it was pushed aside with a charade of a court case. The cause was good, yes, but in the end it was simply a way to draw attention to a narrower issue.
But now we’re left with a conundrum: if FIFA and the Canada Soccer Association were being so disgustingly discriminatory, why should women’s soccer fans support the tournament? And should the players boycott?
Fans can skip the World Cup, choosing to say, “this issue is important enough for me to take a stand.” Alternatively, they can realize it’s the World Cup, go to Canada, but remain unhappy about it, telling everybody that it’s utter bullshit that you were forced into such a ridiculous decision.
As for the players, most know artificial turf isn’t the devil. They play on worse surfaces all the time. Yes, it’s deplorable that FIFA has created a de facto testbed for the stuff at senior level for Canada 2015, but it’s probably not enough to prompt players to skip the tournament. Or to urge fans to boycott.
In the face of evident inequality, some of the most famous athletes in the world now have but one option: Either play, or don’t. There is no legal route. There’s no process for an internal FIFA appeal. It’s ludicrous.
Rather than spending so much time pursuing an inane court case, the players and their representatives should’ve been pressing the fact that this isn’t about the law. It’s about something deeper, something more fundamental. Once you break through the mire of FIFA standards, single-country bids, and the state of modern turf, this is basic, common sense stuff: Why us and not them?
“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,” said Abby Wambach said in a statement explaining the players’ decision. I hope she’s right.
Still, it would have been nice to have Wambach, Alex Morgan, and the game’s other stars get in front of the camera, make a real case for empathy, and move away from the empty legalese. It would have taken more time, the arguments would have had to been more thought out than “turf = bad,” but we might actually be somewhere now. We could have progressed.
Instead, we have lawyers preaching a false martyrdom, and the women’s quest remains where it started.