REUTERS - A group of top international women players filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) on Wednesday alleging gender discrimination over plans to play the 2015 Women's World Cup on artificial turf.
The lawsuit, filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, claims the sport's governing body and CSA are discriminating against women by staging the tournament on artificial grass that they feel poses safety risks and alters how the game is played.
"The gifted athletes we represent are determined not to have the sport they love be belittled on their watch," Hampton Dellinger, the attorney representing the players, said in a statement.
"Getting an equal playing field at the World Cup is a fight female players should not have to wage but one from which they do not shrink. In the end, we trust that fairness and equality will prevail over sexism and stubbornness."
The World Cup finals for men and women, contested every four years, have always been played on natural grass.
The legal action comes one day after FIFA representatives began site inspections of the venues that will host the June 6-July 5 competition in six Canadian cities.
Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's deputy director of the competitions and head of women's competitions, told reporters after a tour of one of the stadiums that there is no Plan B and the tournament will go ahead as planned and be played on artificial turf.
"No plans to change that decision," said Haenni. "I can't answer if that is fair but that is the way it is going to be.
"It is according to the competition regulations, it is according to laws of the game so all matches will be on artificial turf."
The players, led by U.S. national team forward Abby Wambach, had given FIFA and the CSA a deadline of last Friday to open a dialogue on the issue but when their requests for a meeting were ignored followed through on their promise of legal action.
In addition to the application, the attorneys filed a brief detailing the facts and law in support of the discrimination claim and a motion to expedite the proceedings.
"Through public statements and private communications the players and their lawyers have clearly signaled to CSA and FIFA that we want to resolve the 'turf war' through good faith negotiations rather than litigation," said Dellinger. "CSA and FIFA have ignored these overtures.
"As a result, the players have no choice but to initiate the legal action filed today.
"Whatever happens in court, CSA and FIFA have lost any claim to being good stewards of the women’s game -- until they correct their mistake."
The standoff has cast a cloud over the buildup to the women's showcase.
More than 40 of the world's best players, including Wambach and Germany's Nadine Angerer, FIFA players of the year for 2012 and 2013, respectively, have so far joined the coalition.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Frank Pingue