Turf an issue at pre-draw news conference
A top official for soccer's international governing body is standing firm on the decision to play the 2015 Women's World Cup on artificial turf, dismissing claims by a group of players who say that's gender discrimination.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was peppered with questions about the artificial turf controversy Friday at an Ottawa news conference in advance of Saturday's draw for next year's World Cup in Canada.
''If anyone is saying that the use of the artificial pitch is a question of discrimination, it's nonsense,'' he said. ''It's completely crazy to say that. It has nothing to do with discrimination.''
Valcke said FIFA is advancing the Women's World Cup with increased prize money - to $15 million - and the use of goal-line technology, which was used in the men's World Cup last summer in Brazil.
A group of players, including U.S. forward Abby Wambach and German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, has brought a discrimination claim against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The players say that artificial turf can cause certain injuries and changes the way the game is played because it can affect ball movement. But they also claim that playing on fake grass amounts to discrimination because their male counterparts would never play a World Cup on artificial turf.
FIFA and the CSA both maintain that the artificial turf that will be used is FIFA approved for top international competitions. Canada has stipulated all along that it planned to play the tournament matches on turf.
In an interview in late October, Valcke was quoted as saying he welcomed an open dialogue with players who were dissatisfied with the decision. The attorney for the players, Hampton Dellinger, proposed a conference call but Valcke said Friday he preferred to meet face to face with players.
Dellinger said the women welcome Valcke's assertion that the lines of communication are open.
''The players want to speak with him, if he will meet with them in person, that's great. We don't want a face-to-face meeting to be a delay tactic,'' Dellinger said. ''But assuming his remarks were genuine and in good faith, I know the players will be pleased to have a chance to speak with him in person.''
The players filed their legal action with the tribunal in early October. The sides were offered mediation, but the Canadian Soccer Association declined, so the matter will be decided by the tribunal. There is no timeline for a decision.
The Women's World Cup runs June 6 through July 5 and will be played in six Canadian cities.
Also at the press conference in Ottawa on Friday, the pots were announced for the draw at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. The event's expanded field of 24 teams was separated into four groups, or pots.
The top-ranked teams, host Canada, along with the United States, Germany, defending champion Japan, Brazil and France, were in Pot 1. The draw will place the six seeded teams in separate groups, meaning they will not meet in the opening stage.
The top-ranked U.S. women's team headed to Brazil on Friday for the International Tournament of Brasilia, a four-team competition at the National Stadium Mane Garrincha.
The Americans will face China on Dec. 10, Brazil four days later and Argentina on Dec. 17. The championship and third-place game will be Dec. 21.
The United States has won the women's World Cup twice but fell in the final to Japan on penalty kicks in 2011.
Pots for the Women's World Cup draw:
Pot 1: Canada, Germany, Japan, U.S., Brazil and France.
Pot 2: Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, Mexico and New Zealand.
Pot 3: Australia, China, South Korea, Thailand, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Pot 4: Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, England and Netherlands.