Menendez Joins Bipartisan Group of U.S. Senators Calling On FIFA to Hold 2015 Women’s World Cup on Same Style of Field as Men’s Soccer

Menendez Joins Bipartisan Group of U.S. Senators Calling On FIFA to Hold 2015 Women’s World Cup on Same Style of Field as Men’s Soccer

In Letters to FIFA and U.S. Soccer Federation, Bipartisan Group of Senators Urge World Cup Organizers to Negotiate With Players, Treat Women Equally

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joined 12 other U.S. Senators in urging international soccer officials to consider holding 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup on a natural grass field instead of on turf.

A group of more than 40 top international women's soccer players 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.

"Artificial turf both increases the risk of serious injury and fundamentally changes the way the game is played. FIFA has never used turf fields for the men's World Cup… As members of the United States Senate, we are deeply concerned with FIFA's treatment of these players. We urge you to begin good faith negotiations with these athletes, free of retaliation and with the equal treatment that they deserve," the senators wrote.

The letter - signed by Menendez, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward Markey (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert P. Casey (D-PA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) - called on FIFA Federation to reconsider the playing surface for the upcoming World Cup series in Canada.

More than 13.5 million American's watched the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final and this year, the U.S. Women's soccer team is ranked first in the world.

"We're grateful that these Senators are standing beside us in our fight for an equal playing field at the World Cup. In soccer, the field means everything," said Abby Wambach, a member of the U.S. Women's National Team. "But what's at stake here is more than just the surface we'll be playing on - it's about gender equality and standing up for what's right. Women's soccer fans around the world are watching to see if our sport will be given the equal treatment it deserves, and now we know that Congress is watching, too."

The senators also sent a letter to Sunil Gulati, President of the United States Soccer Federation, urging him 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.

Click here for a PDF of the letter to President of FIFA Sepp Blatter. Full text of the letter is below:

November 7, 2014

Sepp Blatter
President
International Association of Federation Football (FIFA)
FIFA-Strasse 20
P.O. Box 80344
Zurich, Switzerland

Dear Mr. Blatter

We write to express our concerns over reports that the 2015 Women's World Cup will be held on artificial turf, whereas the men's competition is held entirely on grass. We ask the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to reconsider this short-sighted and counterproductive decision.

We are particularly concerned by reports that FIFA has ignored the concerns of female players over the safety issues and lack of prestige associated with using turf fields. Furthermore, we are disturbed by reports that FIFA has threatened to retaliate against players who voice concerns and demand the same playing field as their male peers.

Artificial turf both increases the risk of serious injury and fundamentally changes the way the game is played. FIFA has never used turf fields for the men's World Cup. And it appears that it has no plans to do so having committed to using natural grass for the 2018 men's tournament in Russia and 2022 men's tournament in Qatar, host countries with climates at least as challenging as Canada's.

FIFA itself has recognized the inferiority of turf to natural grass. In March, FIFA's weekly magazine published an article titled, "How Bad are the Artificial Turf Pitches?" in which the author points out that male athletes routinely refuse to play on artificial turf, deeming it unacceptable, and "widely regarded as deeply problematic." When FIFA polled top female soccer players around the world, 77% agreed that all matches at major tournaments should be played on natural grass, while just 8% disagreed.

Viewership and interest in women's soccer has never been higher. The 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final gave ESPN its highest U.S. ratings ever for a soccer match at the time, drawing 13.5 million viewers in the U.S. And in 2015, the world will again be watching the Women's World Cup with great interest.

Currently ranked first in the world, the United States women's national soccer team has made our country proud time and time again. As members of the United States Senate, we are deeply concerned with FIFA's treatment of these players. We urge you to begin good faith negotiations with these athletes, free of retaliation and with the equal treatment that they deserve.

Sincerely,

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