RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Artificial turf or grass? There's a big difference and now some of the biggest names in women's soccer are suing over it. A group of players, including American and Brazilian stars, filed a lawsuit in Canada yesterday. The players say the international soccer organization FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association have created an unequal playing field - literally - for next summer's World Cup in Canada. All the men's World Cups, as far into the future as 2022, are on grass. But, when the women's World Cup takes place in Canada in 2015, all games will be played on artificial turf.
For more on the lawsuit, we're joined by one of the players on the U.S. women's national team and a plaintiff in the case, Heather O'Reilly. Welcome to the program.
HEATHER O'REILLY: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: You have filed this case claiming gender discrimination, which is a big claim so let's start by unpacking the difference between turf and grass. Why is it so different for players?
O'REILLY: The main difference is - to be quite honest - is an injury issue or a health issue.
MARTIN: How so?
O'REILLY: You know, slide tackling on grass - you know, you get up, you shake the grass off, get the dirt off. On turf unfortunately, a little layer of your skin comes up with every slide tackle so you get turf burns. Those diving headers that are so exciting on the world stage aren't going to happen on artificial turf because you can get injured. So it changes the game quite a bit - one on the injury side. Two - it changes the game just on the soccer end. The ball just moves quite a bit faster on turf so you know, it's out of bounds a lot, there's a lot of throw-ins, things like that. And it's also quite a bit more bouncy. It doesn't roll as easily as it may on grass and it just loses the rhythm of the game and the fluidity of the game.
And the biggest issue that we have with it is, we just do not think this would happen on the men's side.
MARTIN: You're suing both FIFA and the Canadian soccer officials, but is this really Canada's responsibility to change? I mean, we should point out when they bid on the World Cup - and they were the only bidder - they were upfront about the fact that all of the venues would have turf, were they not?
O'REILLY: They were and FIFA worded it to them with their bid of artificial turf. So for that we reason, we feel like it should be a joint effort of FIFA and Canadian Soccer Association to work together to rectify this mistake.
MARTIN: Julie Foudy, who you know - a former player - wrote a strongly-worded piece for ESPN.com. She's a former U.S. women's national team player. And the first line of her piece says, quote, "FIFA does not care what you think." She's conveying a lot of anger about how FIFA deals with women's soccer. Is that something you feel, as well?
O'REILLY: I think the game has made a lot of strides through the years, but at the end of the day, I think that this is a blatant demonstration of FIFA not placing the women side by side with the men. You know, many men's players refuse to play on artificial turf, actually and the thought of it being played in the World Cup is almost laughable.
MARTIN: You and the other plaintiffs on this case have said that you won't boycott the World Cup no matter what decision comes down. Why not?
O'REILLY: I think we are committed to playing in the World Cup. For us this is the pinnacle of the sport, this is what we train for. We're very committed as a U.S. team to win the World Cup. So right now, boycotting is not a consideration. We didn't even wish that a lawsuit would be the option, but Canada Soccer and FIFA have refused to negotiate so this is the road that we are going down and I think hopefully, the courts will see it in our favor.
MARTIN: Heather O'Reilly, she's one of the plaintiffs in a case against FIFA and Canadian soccer officials.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Heather.
O'REILLY: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Today FIFA told the Associated Press it had not been quote, "officially contacted on the matter and was therefore not in a position to comment," but earlier this week a FIFA official visiting Canada told reporters there is no plan B.
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