Lawyers take next step in 2015 World Cup turf war, request public records

Jeff Kassouf August 13, 2014 55
B.C. Place, site of the 2015 World Cup final. (Photo Copyright Harjeet Johal for The Equalizer)

BC Place, site of the 2015 World Cup final. (Photo Copyright Harjeet Johal for The Equalizer)

Legal representatives of a group of players considering suing Canada Soccer and FIFA over the use of artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup took the next steps this week, requesting public records.

Public records of Sport Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage and B.C. Pavilion Corporation — which operates BC Place, home to the 2015 World Cup final — were requested as the group continues to build its legal case. The information being requested surrounds discussion of the the playing surfaces for the 2015 World Cup, but also regarding Sport Canada’s involvement in the Canadian bid for the 2026 men’s World Cup.

Lawyers for the coalition of about 40 international players sent a letter to FIFA and Canada Soccer in late July requesting the opportunity to speak with the groups to find a way to avoid using artificial turf at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The legal representatives for the players said in the letter, obtained by The Equalizer last week, that the use of “a second-class surface is gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law, including human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Canada Soccer and FIFA had no comment on the matter last week, but did acknowledge that they received the letters. The players’ legal representatives said they still have not heard from FIFA or Canada Soccer to advance the conversation.

[VIEW THE FULL LETTER HERE]

On Wednesday, attorneys Hampton Dellinger and Tristram Mallett issued the following statement:

“Canadian law broadly prohibits discrimination based on gender and likewise provides ample opportunity for access to public records.  We are hopeful that Canadian government agencies will quickly comply with the data requests and believe the resulting information will only strengthen the players’ claims of unfair and unlawful treatment based on gender.”

[VIEW ALL THREE LETTERS REQUESTING PUBLIC RECORDS HERE]

Delllinger, Mallett and their law teams at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP of the United States, and Canadian firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, hope to decipher whether or not FIFA is “responsible” for the decision to play the tournament on turf, if natural grass was ever considered, and how B.C. Place obtained a FIFA 2-star rating for its turf.

Lawyers are requesting the information through Canada’s Access to Information Act, giving the requested organizations 30 days to respond.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/JigsawWill Jigsawwill

    This oughta be good.

    • xman22702

      Can you make an Alyssa Naeher highlight video???

      • ctsmith73

        x2

    • ctsmith73

      It has an ominous feel.

  • ROOTchino

    Nice to see some big name athletes showing some support: https://twitter.com/kobebryant/status/499682996535173121

    • fanfrom1995

      A picture is worth a thousand words. Thanks for the pic and tweet.

  • Guest

    These ladies are not playing around.

  • Elaine
    • Robert

      Thank you, Elaine, for the link. I have signed it. I would love for all of the teams to simply boycott the WC until FIFA obliges.

      • Steglitz49

        Why should FIFA subsidize one of the richest countries in the world? They might as well pay for natural grass in Burkina Faso or some other destitute country and move the WC there.

        • Silver Frost

          Because Sepp Blatter’s expense account alone could pay for sodding all fields.

          • Steglitz49

            He might well pay for fields in poor countries around the world. Zlatan paid for Sweden’s mildly handicapped team to go to their world cup, so there is precedent for generosity.

    • Steglitz49

      I read the list of players and noted that 8 US players are named and 12 Germans but a whole whacking 14 from Sweden! The two Japanese play in Europe.

      My question comes back to this: who pays for the natural grass? If grass was cheap, this would never have been an issue, neither would it if Canada, one of the world’s richest countries, had done the decent thing.

      I guess were the discovery process to find that the CSA twisted FIFA to let them play on artificial to save money, it is game, set and match. If FIFA were forced to accept artificial surfaces to even get a women’s world cup, it is still CSA’s headache or possibly stale mate. If FIFA manipulated Canada into using artificial surfaces, it is FIFA’s pigeon.

      At the end of the day, someone has to pay.

      • Elaine

        I think you know my hunch about this as far as the bidding process is concerned and the turf issue relating to Blatter. As far as the cost, this is what the lawyers put in their 4 pg letter:
        “Moreover, artificial turf is wholly unjustified as a financial imperative. The installation of natural grass would cost but a fraction of your organizations’ budgets thus defeating any defense of undue hardship.”

        I would think they have some idea of the cost to install grass. But then again we don’t really know the full details until someone, somewhere uncovers the truth.

        • Steglitz49

          Euro-13 was played on natural grass in spite of a lot of soccer in Sweden being played on artificial surfaces. One stadium was newly built and was always intended to have an artificial surface but simply for Euro-13 they laid grass at great (and unnecessary) expense. That spring the weather was inclement and though the ground staff worked like slaves, the organizers had no choice but to buy a whole new field of sod and lay down, sod that was then taken up.

          I have never seen a bill for all that but it can’t have been cheap. It might explain 14 Swedes in the list but only 8 Americans.

          I hope that the courts find against the CSA in this matter. Blatter may well have seen an opportunity to test a new way of playing soccer but the CSA should have had more respect for their ladies.

          Everyone knows who Christine Sinclair is. I can’t name a single Canadian male soccer player.

          • Elaine

            Remember it was the CSA who ripped out the only grass field in the tournament and replaced it with artificial turf!

          • Steglitz49

            That was in a response to a FIFA request (demand) that all matches had to be on the same surface. When Toronto turned up their noses, that left Moncton with the only grass field.

            I expect that we shall find, that it will look as if the CSA proposed and FIFA accepted. Whether that was what really happened, is another matter. We could even find, that had Toronto come on board, natural grass would have been in.

            As someone typed, this will be fun.

          • Elaine

            What are the chances that Toronto will be made available? The PanAm games doesn’t start until July 10.

          • Steglitz49

            It is too late now. The lawyers have gotten their teeth into this. (I am not sure whether Moncton’s field is already artificial but I think it is).

            What would be the best outcome for all women playing soccer around the world? It could be a judgement against the CSA as a result of which they go bankrupt and are wiped from the face of the earth — along the lines of “shooting an admiral from time to time so as to encourage the others”.

          • Rdalford

            current U-20 WWC in Canada is being played in multiple cities some fields are grass (Toronto) other (Edmonton etc) artificial turf so is FIFA all same surface rule only applicable at senior level?

          • Steglitz49

            Indeed. The discovery process hopefully will give us the facts. For example, the U20 is meant to be a dry run for the WC, like the Confederations Cup for the men, but U20 matches have been played in Toronto who declined the WC. (We might find that FIFA did not ask for all surfaces to be the same but that is what I remember.)

          • 20/20

            Pardon my confusion but I want to get this right. Did you just say that for Euro-13 Sweden put down a grass field, originally, and then when the Spring weather was inclement they had to buy a SECOND field (of sod), which then sat on top of the first grass field? Then the sod at the end of the tournament was taken up, leaving a grass field, or what remained of one, underneath? A further question would be: Did they go on to keep the grass field at that stadium or did they rip it up and replace it with artificial turf? I ask because I wonder if this could repeat in Canada next year, if we get to that point. Thanks for the info – new to me.

          • Steglitz49

            I am not a groundsman so I may not be explaining it in correct terminology. Briefly, that stadium was newly bulit and always scheduled to have an artificial surface. Because it was going to used for Euro-13, sod (turf in English English) was laid but owing to the inclement weather it did not bed down properly. It was in poor state when Sweden played Norway about a month before the tournament.

            They tried their best but in the end the Swedish FA were forced to buy a whole new lot of sod from Holland. The sod that had not taken was dug up and the new sod was put down. It worked well for the tournament. At some poinbt after the tournament, that second sod (grass) was taken out and the artificial surface laid. What happened to the grass that had been played on I do not know.

            Judging by the lawyers letters, the next installment is due on Sep 11th. It seems that the date of August 12th on the letters requesting access to records was chosen with care.

          • 20/20

            Thank you, sir. For the 6 fields Canada will have for WC-15… I believe the men’s cup consisted of a total of 63 or 64 games, so that would be an average of 10 games per field. I think a properly planted grass field can handle 10 games. So, although like you I’m not a groundsman, I would be skeptical if claims are made that “we can’t repair the fields well enough or fast enough if a game or games are played on it in a rain storm and they get damaged”. I’m 100% certain that players would still prefer playing on a somewhat torn-up field than on artificial turf. So, that argument doesn’t hold water, no pun intended, in my view.

          • Steglitz49

            I think we can agree that the CSA are batting on a sticky wicket. I expect that FIFA has laced their texts with weasel-words like “preferred”, “normally”, “generally”, “usually”, “notwithstanding”, “inasmuch as”, etc, and so on and so forth.

            The discovery process will be fun.

          • 20/20

            Yes, it will be interesting, the whole of the proceedings ahead. I suspect you’re right, if FIFA is determined to fight this. How awesome would it be if they come in day 1 with a “guilty” verdict and so a willingness to do penance by reaching into their Men’s World Cup pocket for the green within it.

          • Steglitz49

            I am not persuaded that FIFA give a monkey’s. I suspect they have covered their tracks and it will be the CSA who will be pilloried in the stocks, even if the true blame is on FIFA.

            We have even more fun to look forward to because a WC final in Vancouver between Germany and Japan will suit the TV-time of neither, and if it is Canada v France when do you play it? At 11 am PNW-time?

          • 20/20

            Are you omitting the team from the USA in your finals projections because you feel they get beat or because you think they’ll withdraw in protest of the playing surface?

          • Steglitz49

            No. The lawyers’ letter makes clear that the women they are acting for will not boycott the WC. My interpretation is that the lawyers either feel they have trump on their hand or know that they can’t win.

            Canada and USA have the same time-zones not counting Hawaii. Nevertheless, a Can v US final raise the same issues, that sponsors want the north-American markets but they also do not want to lose either the European or the Asian one. Think of how the men’s matches were scheduled in Brazil.

  • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

    Can FIFA even be sued for such a thing? FIFA isn’t making them play on these fields.

    • Steglitz49

      As others and I have typed repeatedly, this could have been avoided if Canada, one of the world’s richest countries, had done the decent thing from the outset.

      I imagine you can sue FIFA in Switzerland, starting in Zurich where they are based, but as you type, what would be the case against FIFA?

      Were the discovery process to find material which showed that FIFA manipulated the process so that only a Canadian bid for playing on artificial surfaces would be successful, there could be a case to answer depending on Swiss law.

      The discovery process might find that it was the CSA who wanted to play on artificial grass (eg to save money), and that FIFA accepted this when there was no other bidder to get a women’s world cup. If that is the case, the ball is in Canada’s court and the courts in Canada may want to have their day in court.

      As for a ruling in Canada, another option would be to rule that Canada’s bid for 2026 must be based on the same surface as the type used in WC-15. Whether Canadian courts make such manipulative or conditional rulings is another question.

  • Initial B

    What everyone is missing here is that the majority of these stadiums being used for the 2015 Womens World Cup are CFL stadiums – pretty much American football. Have you all seen how football games tear up the grass? Soccer players have a choice, they can either choose a uniform, artificial playing surface, or they can choose a lumpy, chewed-up, natural playing surface that looks terrible on TV with bald patches everywhere. The Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution all play on turf in MLS. There are several professional turf fields in England as well. And do you really think the folks in Qatar will have natural grass inside their enclosed, air-conditioned WC stadiums? I don’t think the lawyers will have much of a leg to stand on.
    That said, I’d at least like to have seen some discussion of whether a Hybrid surface (natural grass with a single artificial anchor fibre implanted every square inch) could have been an option.

    • Steglitz49

      There is a proverb (Italian I think): “you never see a fat client and a thin lawyer”.

    • 20/20

      Women, weighing half or less of what pro football players weigh, running on grass after a soccer ball would not tear up a field even close to the extent that extremely large men playing gridiron football tear up a field. Yes, there is stopping and starting a lot in soccer and slide tackling, but nothing like what happens in the trenches in football, the digging in and cutting of 250 -350 pound men, the tackling. You didn’t see horrible fields in the men’s world cup and the women will dig up fields significantly less, so to me that is not a legitimate reason to not go ahead with grass.

      • Steglitz49

        Forget it. This issue no longer about logic. It is about prestige and loss of face.

        If it is not men’s ice-hockey, what do Canadians care? Think how many rinks we can build for all that transient grass.

        • 20/20

          I’m just thinking about the potential legal fight and what they – the CSA, FIFA , whoever it will be, may try to offer as just one more sound, logical reason why they shouldn’t do this, why this wouldn’t be good for the Cup. Not the REAL reason they don’t want to make the change, but 1 that they would try to make sound convincing in court. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know, realistically, how this may go in terms of what gets argued, but I hear you. I would say that if it is really about prestige and loss of face that they’ll lose more prestige and more face by NOW not making the change. Because it’s out in the open. Like Lance Armstrong not coming clean fast enough, or Pete Rose or Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez. If those guys had admitted their wrongdoing right away (like Jason Giambi did about taking steroids) people would have applauded them and forgiven them a lot more than when (some of them) did it years, or decades later.
          I think you asked: WHO will finance the change to grass if it happens? I would like to know the answer to that even if it’s getting ahead of the game. Is it a combo of FIFA and The CSA – is that the right acronym? Whose profits does that cost cut into – some for each?

          • Steglitz49

            OK. For fun I will act as FIFA’s consiglieri. What can I say? They made us do it. We wanted to run a women’s WC. They they were one of only two bidders and the other country, which has a number of issues of their own, pulled out. We had no choice and it cost us.

            We had to agree to plastic, my daughter. We made them use a superior grade and do it all on plastic, so it is the same for everyone. What else could we do? I ask you. They are a very rich country.

            It is true, my lass, that we have never run a men’s WC on plastic but then no-one has made a competitive bid to do so yet. It is hardly our fault, is it? When someone does, we will consider it. Some men’s qualifying matches have been played on artificial grass. How is that discriminatory? I ask you.

            They want us to pay for grass for women in one of the world’s richest countries. We have a number of projects to help women of poor and destitute countries to play football. Should we cut into those?

            Our so-called wealth, comes from the men’s game, not the women’s. Is it unreasonable, I ask you, for the male Canadian politicians to put some male Canadian tax-payers into their venture, so we can continue to help women in the poorer parts of the globe?

            You ask what we will do if the Canadian courts rule that a WC in Canada must be played on grass. That is an interesting question. I would have to look into that but without prejudice and subject to confirmation, my first impression is that it will void the contract between the CSA and us. Should grass be required by Canada, then there may be other countries willing to stage a WC on natural grass for us. They might be cheaper. Who knows without asking for competitive bids?

            Over to you 20/20!

          • 20/20

            CSA to FIFA: “Please help us pay for this, please! We’ll drag your name through the mud if you don’t. Come on, don’t be greedy, you can give us some of that men’s world cup money, can’t you? And still do your humanitarian works, eh? Just reduce your bonuses for your Execs – it’s that simple! We’re stuck with this World Cup thing now, these women aren’t backing down and …….uh, we’d just RATHER NOT foot the whole bill ourselves. What’d say Seth, Seth ole buddy ole pal? Have ye not a heart?”

          • Steglitz49

            (To continue the discussion I will assume that the discovery process finds nothing to show that FIFA manipulated to process to get the tournament on plastic. That is a big assumption admittedly.)

            Associates at the CSA. You took on this WC and assured us that playing on artificial grass was OK in Canada and that there would be no issues around this. You were wrong.

            We have certified and graded certain artificial materials. A world cup on artificial is in keeping with our philosophy of making it possible to play soccer around the globe.

            It so happened that your WC became the first one. Someone has to be first. You were. Most people rejoice at being number one. Your courts did not.

            The money we spend on developing the game, we want to have lasting consequences. If we are to continue to tax the male players and fans of the men’s game to build the women’s game, we contend a need to show permanent installations and resources, not grass for a few weeks in one of the world’s richest countries. You can see that, can’t you.

            All this started because the lady players disdain the artificial surfaces that many of them play on in their own leagues. We have not been idle. We have done some fact finding and have alternatives that are cheaper than grassing Canada. An announcement will be made this weekend.

            (Off mike, the consiglieri was allegedly heard to mutter: “No-one kicks FIFA around. If the [explitive deleted] had done their [expletive deleted] homework, their [expletive inserted] courts would not have ruled against them. [Expletive deleted] amateurs.”)

          • guest42

            How much do you suppose FIFA spends promoting the women’s game around the world? What did they spend in Brazil promoting the game, men’s or women’s? Their business model is to let the host country bear all the expenses of running the tournament, including building new stadiums, while they scoop up all the revenue streams from ticket sales and TV broadcast rights. Forget about contributing to the development of the game, they don’t even pay local sales tax, money that could be easily spent by local municipalities to build basic infrastructure like roads, sewers, and schools. So maybe FIFA does pay for girls to play soccer tournaments in less-developed countries. Is it worth it if the money comes from cheating host nations out of badly needed tax revenue?

          • Steglitz49

            Some of the issues you raise have been discussed before on the WQ but for now, and without prejudice and subject to not waiting for what the discovery process might reveal, I will try to stay in my consiglieri persona.

            Guest at 42 The Calls, whoever you might be my daughter, the business model that FIFA, UEFA and all the other FAs use, is a well established one in sports. We are not unusual. As you can see on our web site, we have an active program for ladies in poor countries, unlike your NWSL with Mexico. From those according to their abilities, to those according to their needs, and all that.

            You understand, no doubt, that there is a limit to how much of our earnings from the men’s game we can channel to the ladies. The world will rightly criticize us if we spend that money on temporary grass in one of the world’s richest countries.

            Instead, we contend that that money is better spent on our projects in the poorer parts of the world. I would be interested to lear why toy don’t agree. Please enlighten us. We are all ears.

            As for our contract with the CSA, that is based on their bid which we accepted. I don’t need to remind you that Canada were the only bidder remaining at the time. Thus, since we wanted to stage another women’s WC, they had us over the proverbial barrel. All we could do was bend over and take it.

            Nothing stops Canada from providing temporary grass. Countries, which play their ladies soccer on artificial surfaces, might feel let down. As long as Canada puts grass in everywhere and guarantees it will be healthy and of fine quality, I doubt that the FIFA leadership will object. But, the CSA can hardly expect FIFA to take money earmarked out of other projects for women to pay for this change, not least when Canada is so rich.

            FIFA follows with interest the attendance at the U20 matches and hopes that the match between Canada and Germany will be sold-out, as I expect you do too.

          • Sig

            “Canada is so rich,” “one of the richest countries in the world…”
            Laughs.
            These stadiums are owned by Canadian Football League (pointy ball football) teams. Out of the nine teams, about half will make a small profit in any given year. Their salary cap for an entire season is about $4.5 million (Canadian) dollars. For them to spend $250,000 to install grass will destroy any profits for the entire league.
            Blatter and his gangsters sure aren’t putting up any of their cash.

          • Steglitz49

            Rdalford, who keeps the score, dug out for us elsewhere, that the U20 WC-02 was played totally on natural grass in Canada.

            If Canada were able to stage a junior tournament on grass, let them stage the senior tournament on grass in 2015 too.

            If the players demand grass, there are other countries which have the infrastructure to satisfy their needs without anyone spending a penny on grass or anywhere.

          • justsayin

            Play it in the USA! Wouldn’t cost a dime to put grass in MLS stadiums in the US, because there are at least 12 of them that already have grass, not to mention NFL stadiums that sit vacant in June, like Tampa, Jacksonville and Chicago, just to name a few, in addition to collegiate fields like Stanford and Rentschler in Hartford. Oh, and there’s a pretty bowl in Pasadena that holds about 90,000 where it hardly ever rains in July… I could go on, but you get the picture.

          • Steglitz49

            One of the 1994 men’s WC semi-finals was played in Stanford stadium in front of 83,500 spectators. Since then Stanford has renovated their stadium for about $100m and it seats a bit less but has executive boxes.

            Your points are well taken. Indeed, the US rescued the women before (2003), and at short notice. FIFA are most grateful to the US for that service to the ladies game, and would, of course, consider an offer from the US to help us again. There are, of course, other countries but a 24 team WC is tough logistics.

      • Sig

        The Canadian Football League is still playing its 2015 season so if natural grass is installed its going to get roughed up pretty significantly.

        • 20/20

          When does that season end? Gotta think they’d wait for that to end to install it. They don’t need WC grass until June of 2015, so no big rush, though I’m no pro grass installer, so I really don’t know how much lead time you need. Do you?

    • Davidjd

      1. This isn’t 1980. Natural grass is very hardy and can be replaced, in whole or in part, in an extremely short amount of time (a few days at most if needed). Grid Iron football does not tear up a field that much except in bad conditions, poorly maintained surfaces, or during practice. Games do not destroy those fields.

      2. Do you really think Qatar is going to have enclosed stadiums? This wasn’t part of their bid. They talked about on pitch air conditioning.

      3. The lawyers have a huge leg to stand on given the Canadian laws requiring equal treatment of males and females. Do you really think FIFA would allow this if it were for the Men’s WC?

      4. Bald spots on TV is much prettier to look at than artificial turf made of plastic with pieces of old tires ground up.

      • Steglitz49

        Your points are well taken. To address your #3, we must needs await what the discovery process finds, as I have typed elsewhere.

        Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Canada has not staged a men’s WC yet. Thus, it is unclear how staging one for women on artificial surfaces could be judged discriminatory at this stage.

        • Davidjd

          I agree this may be putting the cart before the horse. What Canada may end up doing here is hurting a men’s WC bid if they insist on artificial. (Or is it FIFA who is doing the insisting?)

          I’m not sure if they’ll use domestic mens’ leagues on either side of the case.

          • Steglitz49

            I get the impression that the gnomes of Zurich are wily old foxes and it could well be little red ridinghood CSA who ends up being gobbled up by the wolf of public opinion.

            I interpret FIFA’s intransigence as holding trump on hand while Canada’s bone-headiness is simply incomprehensible. Bizarre.

  • mockmook

    I think the women players are hoping all the bad publicity and discovery will cause CSA/FIFA to change their minds and go to sod.

    I hope so too.

    • Steglitz49

      Your point is well taken, but don’t hold your breath.

      • Sig

        Exactly. Don’t hold your breath. The CSA is not a wealthy organization. The CFL teams that own these stadia are tiny minnows compared to the NFL and are not wealthy. There are only two potential sources of funding: the Canadian taxpayer or Blatter’s FIFA gangsters.
        The course of action to take is to embarrass one or both of those sources.

        • Steglitz49

          Please see my reply to your comment elsewhere.

          For FIFA to fund natural grass in Canada, who staged the U20 WC on natural grass in 2002, FIFA would have to either take money earmarked for projects to develop women’s soccer around the globe or increase their tax on the men’s game.

          It is not fair to take money from the needy ladies and give to a rich country. The men and their fans might reasonably object, saying that women’s soccer must stand on its own legs or perish at the box office. CSA are about to bid for the men’s WC so they can’t be that poor, can they? Let the Canadian tax-payer pay.

          Let’s see what the discovery process finds. That will be interesting if not revealing.