Soccer-Lawyer in Women's World Cup turf case warns of 'intimidation'

Reuters

By Simon Evans

Sept 3 (Reuters) - Lawyers for over 40 top female players threatening to sue FIFA over the proposed use of artificial grass at the 2015 Women's World Cup are investigating reports that players are being pressured against taking legal action.

Players from Germany, Brazil, Spain and the United States are among those claiming the use of artificial turf instead of grass for the June 5-July 6 event in Canada is discriminatory given the men's World Cup is always played on grass.

Attorney Hampton Dellinger said he is investigating several reports he has received that players are being told by their national federations not to be involved in any legal action.

"Such intimidation may run afoul of anti-retaliation laws which mandate that victims of gender discrimination have the right to institute or participate in legal proceedings without the threat of reprisal," Dellinger wrote in a letter, seen by Reuters, which has been sent to FIFA, tournament organizers and presidents of the six regional confederations that make up FIFA.

"This right is something that lawyers representing the players take very seriously. I urge you to take every necessary step to ensure that your national federations are not violating the players' rights.

"Players must feel free to criticize the gender discrimination proposed for the most important event in their sport and join any legal proceedings necessary to vindicate their human rights under applicable law."

Also attached with the letter was a summary of a 2013 survey carried out on behalf of FIFA which showed top players had made it clear they preferred to play top tournaments on grass.

The survey of 190 'elite female players' found that 77 percent agreed with the statement "all matches at a major tournament should be played on natural turf."

"Instead of following the players' obvious sentiments (as well as anti-discrimination laws), World Cup 2015 organizers simply ignored the very opinions they solicited," wrote Dellinger.

Neither FIFA nor the tournament's local organisers in Canada immediately responded for comment on the letter.

Abby Wambach of the United States and Germany's Nadine Angerer - FIFA players of the year for 2012 and 2013, respectively, are among those who signed the original letter threatening legal action.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup for men in Brazil was played on grass and there are no plans to shift future men's tournaments to artificial turf. Some professional soccer leagues and some FIFA World Cup age-group matches are played on artificial turf.

Canada will host the Women's World Cup in six cities - Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton, where stadiums with artificial turf predominate. (Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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