(WFI) FIFA is facing a lawsuit challenging its plans to stage the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada on synthetic turf.

A coalition of elite women’s players including American star Abby Wambach, Germany’s Nadine Angerer and Brazilian Fabiana Da Silva Simoes filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in Toronto on Wednesday.

They say that playing FIFA’s flagship tournament for women on artificial grass is discriminatory because male footballers have always played the World Cup on natural turf. The group claims artificial turf offers a greater risk of injury and affects the movement of the ball and the game itself.

The group wants the host venues in Vancouver (B.C. Place Stadium), Edmonton (Commonwealth Stadium), Ottawa (TD Place Stadium) and Winnipeg (Investors Group Field) to put down natural-grass pitches.

“Two months ago, attorneys for a coalition of leading players informed officials from the Canadian Soccer Association [CSA] and FIFA that forcing the 2015 women’s World Cup to take place on artificial turf rather than grass was not only wrong but also constituted illegal sex discrimination,” Hampton Dellinger, attorney for the players’ coalition, said in a statement on Wednesday carried by the Canadian Press.

“Men’s World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf. The difference matters: plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition.

“Through public statements and private communications the players and their lawyers have clearly signalled to CSA and FIFA that we want to resolve the ‘turf war’ through good faith negotiations rather than litigation. 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 gifted athletes we represent are determined not to have the sport they love be belittled on their watch. 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 statement added.

In response, the Canadian Soccer Association said: “Our lawyers will be reviewing any and all applications or information related to this. We will refrain from any comment until there has been a thorough review.”

FIFA maintains that it won’t change the synthetic playing surfaces for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and has appointed an independent inspector to ensure the artificial turf is up to scratch at the six venues.

In a statement to INSIDER on Thursday, FIFA said: “While we are aware of the recent media reports, at the time of writing we have not been officially contacted on the matter you refer to and therefore we are not in a position to comment.”

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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