Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand with six other U.S. Senators today renewed their call for organizers of the 2015 International Association of Federation Football (FIFA) Women’s World Cup, to work with players to reach an agreement on the playing surface. The Senators sent a letter to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, following a meeting between players and FIFA officials in Zurich earlier this week.
Senators Schumer and Gillibrand have long pushed FIFA to treat players in the 2015 Women’s World Cup fairly. Last November, the Senators urged FIFA to allow the games to be played on natural grass fields – as is done for the men’s championship – instead of on artificial turf. The Senators also urged Sunil Gulati, the President of the United States Soccer Federation, to use his position as a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee to support fair playing conditions and to ensure that players who have expressed concern about playing on turf fields, do not face retaliation.
“FIFA should not have one set of rules and standards for the men’s World Cup, which for good reason, bans the use of artificial turf, and a different one for the women’s World Cup, which allows it. At the elite world-class level, soccer is best played on grass, and FIFA should reach an agreement with players from our Women’s National Team that restores professionalism and equality to the tournament,” said Senator Schumer. “The fact that FIFA is not treating these women players equally, and forcing them to play on artificial turf, is an egregious error on their part and sends an awful message to the legions of girls and women who love this sport.”
“The field is a professional soccer player’s workplace, and she deserves the same conditions afforded to male players,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Women’s World Cup features the most elite female players in the sport, and it is outrageous that they would be subject to a lesser quality artificial turf. I urge FIFA to do what is right, by allowing our female professional athletes the same opportunity to play on grass that male players are afforded.”
A group of more than 60 top international women’s soccer players, including Rochester native and member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Abby Wambach, have filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association for gender discrimination, citing that the men’s FIFA World Cup competition has never been played on artificial turf. Artificial turf increases the risk of injury and overheating, and its surface changes the way the game is played. The players are requesting the same natural grass fields afforded to male World Cup participants.
FIFA has never used turf fields for the Men’s or Women’s World Cup, and with viewership and interest in women’s soccer at an all-time high, Schumer and Gillibrand say there is no need to diminish the significance of the tournament by forcing players to compete on an artificial turf field when a natural grass field is both preferred and the safer option. Women like Abby Wambach have contributed to the sport’s popularity, and the U.S. Women’s National Team is currently ranked first in the world. Schumer and Gillibrand said this team and the sport of soccer has made the U.S. proud and that the safety and equal treatment of these female athletes should be at the top of FIFA’s priority list.
Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter was co-signed by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert P. Casey Jr (D-PA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Full text of today’s letter is below.
January 15, 2015
International Association of Federation Football (FIFA)
P.O. Box 80344
Dear Mr. Blatter:
In November, we wrote expressing our concerns about the International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) treatment of female soccer players. While the Men’s World Cup has always been played on natural grass, FIFA plans to host the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf. Turf is an inferior surface that poses safety risks and fundamentally alters the way the sport is played.
Remarkably, FIFA has insisted on using artificial turf for the Women’s World Cup despite the players’ sustained objections. We believe that FIFA’s approach is sending the wrong message: FIFA literally is requiring female athletes to perform on an unequal playing field – one that it would not let men play upon.
We are writing to once again ask that you address this problem in good faith. We understand that the players traveled to Zurich in order to present FIFA with a compromise proposal whereby the players would withdraw their complaint before the Human Rights Tribunal in Ontario, Canada, if FIFA would agree to host just four games on natural grass.
This is about more than the playing surface on which soccer matches are played: it is about the message we are sending to women and girls around the world. The United States Women’s National Team has been an inspiration for our country. These incredible female athletes are talented and hard-working, and they endeavor to hold themselves to the highest standards of sportsmanship and teamwork. We are proud of our players, and relegating them to fields that men would not play upon sends the wrong message to them and the world.
We urge you to continue discussions with the players, work to compromise in good faith, and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.