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Female soccer players launch a turf war over next year's Women's World Cup

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Credit: Andy Clark/Reuters

Canadian National Women's Soccer team captain Christine Sinclair poses with the logo for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup on the artificial turf field at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The use of artificial turf has long been a controversial issue in soccer. Now some of the world's top women's soccer players are calling foul on plans to use turf fields during next year's Women's World Cup in Canada.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

In a three-page letter to FIFA, soccer's governing body, and the Canadian Soccer Association, lawyers representing 40 current and former players from a wide range of countries, said that the plan to use turf fields is "discriminatory and violates Canadian law."

“During the [Men’s] World Cup we saw so many players Kung Fu karate-chopped down to the ground, rolling on the grass. They had the luxury of having the ground absorb them," says Carrie Serwetnyk, a former Canadian star who signed the letter. "On a turf field, players will be leaving their skin.”

It's not just cuts and scrapes they're worried about. Players and coaches believe there is a higher risk of injury on artificial turf and that it causes more damage to athletes' bodies. 

Serwetnyk is excited about the World Cup itself. “It’s fantastic that we’re hosting the Women’s World Cup and it’s going to be inspirational for girls and women across Canada and globally — so this is a good thing,” she says. But she thinks the decision to change to artificial turf for the women’s event sends the wrong message.

“It’s saying that girls and women aren’t important enough," she argues. The letter she signed points out that the Men's World Cup has never been played on artificial fields, and that FIFA's own publications say the organization "will always prefer" a well-maintained grass surface to turf. Relegating women to plastic fields, the players say, "degrades the women's game and all involved with it."

“I was already hoping that, here in Canada, we could use the Women’s World Cup as an opportunity to advance social issues," Serwetnyk says. "Things need to shift and the World Cup is this opportunity.”

FIFA officials have declined to comment on the letter, except to say they've received it. Canadian Soccer Association officials have referred questions to FIFA.

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