By Anne M. Peterson
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PORTLAND, Ore. _ An Oregon congressman is throwing his support behind players who are protesting the plan to use artificial turf at the Women’s World Cup next summer in Canada.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer has written his colleagues to join the effort. He will gather their signatures for a letter he plans to send early next week to Jeffrey Webb, president of the North, Central America and Caribbean soccer federation and vice-president of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
“The House has a unique opportunity to send a clear message to FIFA,” Blumenauer writes to his colleagues. “We do not accept gender discrimination in international sporting events. Further, the athletes have every right to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and due process.”
A group of athletes, including U.S. national team players Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, have called on FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association to scrap plans to play the World Cup matches on artificial surfaces.
The athletes say the decision to play the tournament on turf amounts to gender discrimination, because the men would never be forced to play the sport’s premier tournament on fake grass.
Blumenauer said Thursday that he believes he’ll get a strong non-partisan response: “There’s a significant group of members of Congress who actually care about soccer.”
“This is the World Cup competition. Finest in the world. World spotlight,” Blumenauer told The Associated Press. “Why are we going to be treating women differently?”
The players also say artificial turf creates a safety issue because it is not as forgiving as real grass, and that the ball bounces and travels differently on turf, impacting the game.
A group of players has written to FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association appealing for a change. They say they are prepared to take the matter to court in Canada, citing the country’s laws against gender-based discrimination.
The Women’s World Cup will be played in six Canadian cities next summer. FIFA has yet to formally comment on the protest, and the Canadian Soccer Association has deferred comment to FIFA.
However, the president of the Canadian Soccer Association did share some comments in an address to the Vancouver Board of Trade earlier this month, saying it’s wrong to claim the issue is about discrimination.