Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sports Law Guest Series - FIFA’s Treatment of Women #3

Facilities Issue
While competing in the 2015 World Cup the women’s teams were forced to share the same hotel and practice facilities as their competitors. This may not seem like a major issue until you consider that no men’s team of any sport would ever be expected to stay in the same hotel as an opponent. Players and coaches from numerous teams have made remarks and complaints about the issue as the awkwardness is an unnecessary distraction off the field. Incidents have been reported of teams sharing the same elevator after one had just knocked the other out of the competition. The US and Australian teams were put in meal rooms next to each other, forcing them to essentially eat together before their big match (Murray, 2016). FIFA has the resources to place the teams in different hotels around the city, and something as simple as this shouldn’t be an issue after teams complain. Bird believes that women are often given more opportunities and better facilities in college compared to men, as schools often use women’s soccer to help comply with Title IX when they have a major football program. This advantage is immediately lost at the pro level where discrimination laws do not exist, and men’s soccer is the main focus and has reached greater popularity.


Turf Issue
Despite numerous complaints and health concerns, the women’s teams were forced to play on turf fields in all of their 2015 World Cup games; however, no major men’s tournament has been played on turf. Turf has major impacts on the game as it can affect how the ball bounces on the field, lead to injuries such as turf toe, dissuade players from performing slide tackles due to a fear of serious rug burn, and is currently under attack for potentially causing cancer to players after prolonged exposure. This synthetic field also has been shown to absorb heat from the sun at a much higher level than grass or sod fields, with reported incidents of turf fields heating up to 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Artificial turf used for sports such as soccer is made with a material called crumb rubber; this material is made from the scraps of recycled tires. Amy Griffin, a former US Women’s National Team goalkeeper and current coach at the University of Washington, believes that these crumb rubber fields are cancerous to play on. Griffin has compiled a list of over 200 athletes who have developed lymphoma after prolonged exposure on these fields. It is relatively odd for so many former athletes of the same sport to develop lymphoma when they are typically very healthy individuals. In 2015 Brown University did a study on the chemical make-up of crumb rubber that found 12 known carcinogens and reported that half of 96 total chemicals have not yet been tested by the government. The turf industry has also provided their own studies claiming that the fields provide “low levels of concern”; however, these reports are obviously biased and should be taken with a grain of salt. The state of California has committed to a 3 year study looking to test if prolonged exposure and ingestion of crumb rubber through cuts and abrasions could actually lead to cancer, however, the report will not be completed until 2018. Last year 84 players from 13 different countries filed a law suit against FIFA alleging civil rights and discrimination violations for being forced to play on the turf fields. Unfortunately, since the players were not willing to boycott the fast approaching games and FIFA simply ignored the issue they were forced to drop the suit (Foudy, 2015).

Bird has had a lot of experience playing on turf fields and was able to give great insight on the issue. He believes that they are sometimes a necessary evil as a grass field is impossible to upkeep in certain parts of the world; however, he also said that with the resources at FIFA’s disposal they should never force any teams to play on a turf field when the World Cup is over such a short time frame. Through his experience he was able to relate numerous personal stories of how turf affected his body. Playing in the Pacific Northwest his college used artificial turf and he stated that he felt a notable toll this would take on his body. When traveling to play on grass fields he would notice improvements in his overall physical health, but upon returning to play on turf he would again start to have nagging injuries in his lower back and turf toe like symptoms. The temperature is a serious issue as players will often wrap their feet in cold cloths to fight the heat, something many women on the US National Team reported doing while playing in the World Cup over the summer. He believes that if the men’s team were forced to play on turf in the latest World Cup in Brazil then the heat would have to been to unbearable for the players.

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