Soccer's international governing body says it rejected informal offers it received to lay down real grass for the Women's World Cup in part because the proposals didn't include the practice fields.
In a statement Monday, FIFA maintains that the artificial turf that will be used for the upcoming event in Canada meets its highest standards. Regulations stipulate that teams play and train on a consistent surface.
The artificial turf fields that will be used in the World Cup have been a contentious issue with some of the players, who say forcing the women to play on fake grass amounts to gender discrimination because their male counterparts play soccer's premier tournament on natural grass.
Players -- both male and female -- have long claimed that artificial surfaces are less forgiving than natural grass and impact play because of concerns about injury. They also say balls travel and bounce differently on turf.
U.S. forward Abby Wambach has been a vocal critic of FIFA's decision, and last fall led a group of players who took legal action in Canada in protest of the artificial surface. The claim was dropped earlier this year when the players decided it was best to focus on preparing for the World Cup, which starts on June 6. The monthlong event will be played on artificial turf fields in six Canadian cities.
Wambach said last week that there were offers to lay down grass for the tournament for free, prompting FIFA's response.
The governing body, based in Zürich, maintained that Canada's bid for the event included the artificial turf, which FIFA accepted on the condition it met competition standards.
"The contact [with the natural grass companies] was informal and didn't include any range of price for any service," FIFA said in the statement Monday. "The proposals were for the official stadia only and not for the various training sites [18 in total] to allow the players to train on a consistent surface throughout the tournament."
Hampton Dellinger, attorney for the players during the legal challenge over the use of turf, said FIFA deserves "a booking for simulation" and challenged FIFA to respond.
"The idea that a lack of money is the reason this World Cup is on artificial turf is laughable," he said in a statement. "FIFA sits on a $1.5 billion cash reserve, Canada is one of the richest nations on earth, and the players made it clear to organizers that -- if necessary -- private funding from corporations was available to cover the mere million dollars or so it would cost for temporary grass fields of the highest quality.
"Second, the idea that this World Cup would be on grass but for the lack of grass training fields is similarly ludicrous," he said. "University and other first-class facilities are available in or around every host city. Securing sufficient grass practice fields was a wholly surmountable challenge.
"Here's the bottom line: FIFA and CSA never would have forced a men's World Cup onto plastic pitches. They got called out on their sexism and, in response, sought to retaliate against the protesting players.
"And throughout, FIFA and Canadian officials' refusal to do right by the women's game has been enabled by the actions or silence of leading national federations. Now, as the games are set to begin, FIFA and Canada should be 100-percent focused on making the tournament as successful as possible. Diving in the form of a baseless narrative, like artificial turf, has no place in the World Cup."
Wambach emphasized that while it's productive to shine a light on the issue so that future World Cups are played on grass, it is important that attention now be focused on the tournament.
FIFA changed its rules in 2004 to allow sanctioned matches on certain artificial surfaces. A few games at the 2010 men's World Cup in South Africa were played on grass that had been reinforced by artificial fibers.
FIFA rules also state that all matches and practices for the World Cup must be held on the same surface. Canada's bid for the event stipulated that the final be played on an artificial field at BC Place in Vancouver.
A group of some 60 players -- including Wambach, U.S. teammate Alex Morgan and Germany's Nadine Angerer -- filed a complaint last fall with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It named FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, and the Canadian Soccer Association. Neither budged in reconsidering the planned surface for the event.