One-on-one with Benjamin Massey

Sports Sports | Lifestyle

On Oct. 1, a group of female soccer players—some of whom are among the best in the world —filed a lawsuit in the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. They allege that playing the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada on artificial turf constitutes gender discrimination and should not be allowed under Canadian law.

The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) responded to the suit on Oct. 9 by stating that they believed that suit was without merit and that they opposed expediting a request for a hearing on this matter.

Benjamin Massey, founder and editor of the Canadian soccer website, shared his thoughts on the suit and what it means for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

TM: What was your initial reaction when you heard of the suit?

BM: I was a bit surprised the players went through with their action. It seemed too late in the day to get any serious results, and I’d thought their initial threats may have been bluster or a PR stunt. What was really interesting is how the players filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT). They might have thought they’d get a more sympathetic audience, but it’s still a quasi-judicial body whose decisions have no force outside of Ontario.

Even total victory for those protesting players might not stop a World Cup from going forward: they’d [just] have to move a few games out of Ottawa. So I don’t know whether the players are over-optimistic about the potential of their action, or if they’re mainly interested in scoring publicity, embarrassing FIFA, and maybe getting a few token concessions: it seems legally impossible for their actual demands to be met.

TM: What are your thoughts on the CSA’s response?

BM: As a non-lawyer I have a lot of sympathy for the CSA’s position. They dealt with the vagueness of the complainants and some slightly slap-dash assertions effectively. The CSA’s lawyers had a few interesting procedural points, and I think they’re in the right morally, but to me their most cutting observations were how long it took the handful of aggrieved players to take action, and how much of the lawsuit is wholly outside the OHRT’s jurisdiction.

As the CSA rightly pointed out, the Women’s World Cup being hosted on artificial turf has been public knowledge for more than two years now. You can’t always expect tribunals made up of non-soccer fans and generalists to appreciate technical points about the quality of different turf generations, stadium booking restrictions, etc., but anyone can smell a rat, and while the CSA put it very politely, the timing of all this stinks to high heaven.

TM: The suit was filed on behalf of many female soccer stars but did not include any Canadian players, including perhaps the best female player in the world, Christine Sinclair. Does this place Sinclair and other Canadian players in an uncomfortable position with other players from around the world?

BM: I’m sure there’ll be some awkwardness between players but I doubt there will be civil war. International soccer players have been stomping on each others’ heads with their countries and getting along with their clubs for as long as international soccer has existed.

Some of the players in the lawsuit are trying to get a competitive advantage, by denying Canada the use of playing surfaces they’re familiar with: elite athletes understand that. And we can’t be sure none of the Canadians privately agree but don’t want to risk speaking out: for many of these women in the National Women’s Soccer League, the [CSA] literally pays their salaries. International rivalry between fans can be heated but, especially in women’s soccer, it doesn’t usually seem to extend to the players off the field.