Women's FIFA Lawsuit Is Not About Discrimination

On Friday, news broke that over 40 top female players are going to sue FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over alleged gender discrimination. The allegation stems from the fact that the games will be on artificial turf. The lawsuit, which will be filed next week, claims that men have played on a natural grass surface in the World Cup since 1930. Because the 2015 World Cup will be played on an artificial surface, the lawsuit claims that fact should be considered gender discrimination.

ESPN's Lester Munson believes the case will be successful for the players, but that is not the basis of this article.

The real issue here is that the lawsuit hides behind the gender discrimination allegation. Before we get there, let's take a look at issues made by both FIFA and the players in this case.

We know FIFA is far from the most forward-looking organization in the world. It took them until the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup to employ goal line technology. That leads us directly to the bid for the 2015 Women's World Cup. Canada and Zimbabwe both bid for the event in December 2010. Zimbabwe was never going to get the bid, which left Canada as the only remaining bid.

The host cities were announced in May 2012 and there was no secret at that time (or at the time of the bid submission) the surfaces to be played on would be artificial. That begs the question of why did it take two years for the players to file the lawsuit (or 4 years if one uses the December 2010 date)?

What on earth could they have been waiting for? FIFA to give in? That was not going to happen. FIFA does not move until they are forced to. That has been apparent throughout FIFA's history. Waiting until 10 months before the World Cup to force FIFA's hand is ridiculous. This issue should have been done and dusted long before Friday.

Perhaps the players were waiting for the artificial surfaces to improve. A technological jump of that magnitude was not going to happen in two or three years. The players have contested that the artificial turf causes more injuries and cited such in their lawsuit. A draft of the lawsuit can be seen in its entirety here.

The point of whether or not artificial surfaces cause a higher incidence of injuries is hotly contested. One can easily find several studies that prove or disprove their point of view, which only muddles this case.

The players have complained that the game is not quite played the same on an artificial surface. The ball bounces differently, reaction times are different, etc. There are certainly valid concerns on that point, but how is that considered gender discrimination?

Had Zimbabwe won the bid, would the players had complained or filed a lawsuit claiming gender discrimination if the pitches were not in pristine condition? Probably not, which leads to another point about the pitch, specifically at this year's World Cup in Brazil. The pitches were far from ideal in certain locations, but the games were still played. Each team has to play on the same field, even if the pitch is not up to the standards of a particular group of people. Julie Foudy has written an excellent article that looks at some possible turf arguments. 

Then there is the issue that is clearly overlooked by the players in this case. FIFA awarded this competition to Canada, a team which clearly prefers playing on an artificial surface, hence why they used those surfaces in the bid. FIFA has a clear agenda here. They want Canada, or any host country, to do well. The reason is purely economic and there is no doubt about it. If Canada does well, the Canadian people will go to more games. More attendance turns into more revenue.

Do not mistake this for a conspiracy theory. The main reason firms enter a market is to maximize profit. FIFA is incompetent on many things, but they are deft at producing revenue to the fullest extent. FIFA allows only their sponsors to be advertised at games or during games in commercials. Why? Because they want to maximize profits. If Coca-Cola sees a drastic increase in revenue (and profits) during a World Cup cycle, they are far more likely to renew their sponsorship with FIFA. In order for FIFA to maximize their profits, they will probably raise the price of the sponsorship deal.

Now we come to the part that makes this lawsuit deplorable. It truly does hide behind gender discrimination as a base for the lawsuit. It is quite simple to prove that it is more a matter of incompetence than any form of discrimination.

How so? Qatar.

FIFA is the same group that awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country that has temperature in excess of 110 degrees in the summer. This is not about any type of gender discrimination. This is all about FIFA lacking any foresight into the future.

Yours truly rests their case.