A human rights tribunal has rejected a request for an expedited hearing into a complaint over the use of artificial turf at the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada.
But the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has proposed an early mediation "to provide the parties with an opportunity to resolve the matter in a timely way."
American star Abby Wambach and a group of other elite female players lodged the complaint Oct. 1, arguing that forcing them to play on artificial turf was discriminatory since men play their showcase event on natural grass.
Organizers stand behind decision
The Canadian Soccer Association rejected that claim, saying the world governing body of soccer sanctions playing on artificial turf as long as it meets certain standards. FIFA, meanwhile, has argued that artificial turf makes sense for Canada's climate while suggesting a men's World Cup could be played on approved turf "sooner rather than later."
In filing the turf complaint, lawyers for the players asked to fast-track proceedings so arguments could be heard by Nov. 26 in order to have enough time to install grass surfaces by the June 6 start of the 24-country tournament.
The CSA, which doubles as the tournament's national organizing committee, opposed the request. It argued both that the claim had no merit and the players had dragged their feet in filing it.
Mediation next step
Adjudicator Jo-Anne Pickel asked both sides to confirm in writing within seven days their participation in mediation. FIFA has not actively taken part in the legal proceedings.
"We are pleased that (the) CSA is agreeable to mediate and are optimistic that FIFA will join as well so we can reach an appropriate and equitable resolution to this matter," wrote lawyer David Wright in a letter to all parties.
The CSA said it would issue a statement later Friday.
In her interim decision on Wambach vs. Canadian Soccer Association, Pickel said there were factors on both sides of the argument, noting that the tournament is "fast approaching" and installation of natural grass would take time.
But "given the jurisdictional complexity of the case," Pickel said she doubted whether even an expedited hearing might result in a timely decision.
"It must be remembered that an expedited application is given priority for Tribunal resources over all other matters currently before the Tribunal," she wrote. "What the applicants are in effect requesting is that the Tribunal give their application priority over all the many other applications that have been filed with the Tribunal alleging violations of the (Human Rights) Code."
American Senators support players
Earlier in the day, a group of 13 U.S. senators sent a letter to FIFA and U.S. Soccer in support of the female players.
Led by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the lawmakers signed letters sent Friday to FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation in support of players who say that holding the World Cup on artificial turf amounts to gender discrimination.
"Currently ranked first in the world, the United States women's national soccer team has made our country proud time and time again," the letter addressed to FIFA president Sepp Blatter says. "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."