By Steve Keating
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Next year's women's World Cup in Canada will be played on artificial turf despite threats of legal action from several top international players, an unmoved FIFA executive said after touring one of the host venues on Tuesday.
With players threatening a lawsuit if forced to play on artificial pitches, resolute FIFA officials were unfazed as they began site inspections of the six Canadian venues that will host the June 6-July 5 competition.
"No plans to change that decision," a stone-faced Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s deputy director of the competitions and head of women's competitions, told reporters after inspecting the Ottawa stadium. "I can't answer if that is fair but that is the way it is going to be.
"It is according to the competition regulations, it is according to laws of the game so all matches will be on artificial turf."
While FIFA remains adamant the tournament will proceed as planned a group of players is equally determined that the event will be staged on grass, claiming FIFA is discriminating against women by having the tournament on artificial turf.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup for men in Brazil was played on grass and there are no plans to shift future men's tournaments to artificial turf. Some professional football leagues and some FIFA World Cup age-group matches are played on artificial turf.
The FIFA delegation toured a 24,000-seat stadium that is home to the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Redblacks, walking out onto the field to get a close look at the playing surface while the team practiced.
Even with plenty of construction going on around the stadium Haenni was full of praise for the venue but refused to comment on the turf.
"It is the first time we have come and seen it almost finished and from our first impression it really looks beautiful. It is very spacious, very modern, great facilities for players, guests, spectators," said Haenni.
When asked specifically about the playing surface: "I think I just answered that question," Haenni snapped.
While FIFA shows no sign of backing down the governing body did confirm it has brought in an independent consultant to make sure the artificial turf is up to standards.
Haenni can expect similar questions as the inspection tour winds its way across Canada with stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Moncton and Montreal.
With both sides firmly entrenched there appears little hope a legal battle can be avoided.
Lawyers for more than 40 players put FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association on notice when they threatened to push ahead with a lawsuit unless the two bodies agreed to reconsider the use of artificial turf before last Friday's deadline.
Peter Montopoli, the CAS general secretary and chief executive of the World Cup organizing committee, said quite frankly that there was little to open a discussion.
"In terms of dialogue it's been understood the competition would be on artificial turf for a long period of time," said Montopoli. "That's where we were headed and are headed in terms of this competition.
"It is in the laws of the game and in the bid regulations so ... certainly when FIFA awarded the competition to Canada all the regulations were in place."
The standoff has cast a cloud over the buildup to the women's showcase.
Abby Wambach of the United States and Germany's Nadine Angerer, FIFA players of the year for 2012 and 2013, respectively, are among those claiming that the use of artificial turf instead of grass is discriminatory.
The women's cause has also received some high-profile backing on social media with actor Tom Hanks among those offering support.
Despite the distraction, Montopoli is confident the World Cup will be a massive success.
"We've had big plans for this competition and we continue to work very hard for our country to make this what we believe will be one of the pinnacle events in our country," said Montopoli.
"If we achieve our goal of 1.5 million spectators (it will be) the largest single sport sporting event in our country, and the largest attended FIFA event outside the men's World Cup.
"At the end of the day, if there is any application put forward it is for our lawyers to be engaged in.
"There has been no application to the Human Rights Tribunal. We will take it to our legal team and take it from there."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)