(Reuters) - A group of top female soccer players will head to mediation with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) in a bid to resolve a dispute over the proposed use of artificial turf at next year’s Women’s World Cup.
Jo-Ann Pickel, vice chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, declined the players’ request for an expedited hearing on Friday but said the parties should go to mediation.
“I find it appropriate in the circumstances of this case for the Tribunal to schedule an early mediation to provide the opportunity for the parties to resolve the matter in a timely way,” Pickel wrote in her decision.
One of the main reasons given by Pickel for refusing to fast-track the case was the fact that the players did not take legal steps until 18 months after venues, and surfaces, had been announced.
The parties have seven days to confirm their participation in a mediation process but Pickel noted that the CSA and players had already agreed to do so.
FIFA, which is also named in the case, has so far refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the Ontario court, added Pickel.
Over 40 top players argue that women are being discriminated against given that World Cup finals for men, contested every four years, have always been played on natural grass.
Attorney Hampton Dellinger, who is representing the players, said he intends to challenge the decision not to expedite the case but welcomed the move to mediation.
“From the outset of this legal action, the players and their lawyers have said their goal is not to entertain through courtroom drama but to ensure playing conditions so that the drama and beauty of the game can be fully revealed,” Dellinger said in a statement.
“Today’s decision paves the way for immediate mediation of the dispute.”
Canada will host the June 5-July 6 event in six cities - Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.
Earlier on Friday, a group of 13 U.S. senators urged FIFA to switch the tournament to natural grass.
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue