Canceled Game Peeves Women's Soccer Fans
by Julie St. Louis, CourtHouseNews, December 15, 2015
HONOLULU (CN) - Disappointed fans who had tickets to a U.S. Women's Soccer exhibition game canceled due to poor field conditions say the men's team would never have to face such conditions on the pitch.
In a 16-page complaint, fans say they were given less than 24 hours' notice that an exhibition game on Dec. 6 between the U.S. Women's National Soccer team and Trinidad and Tobago had been canceled. Fear of injury to players led to the cancellation, after the defending Women's World Cup champions practiced and complained that the Aloha Stadium's field was too dangerous.
Honolulu residents Roxayne Spruance and Leimomi Dierks brought the suit on Dec. 8 against the United States Soccer Federation, Stadium Authority of the state of Hawaii - and a host of individual, corporate and governmental Does - on behalf of the more than 16,000 ticket holders were promised but have yet to receive refunds of $28 to $400 of their ticket price.
The class claims the defendants knew or should have known the field wasn't in any condition to host a soccer game, and that U.S. Soccer Federation officials "failed to inspect the turf at Aloha Stadium prior to the event, despite federation protocol to the contrary."
But the real problem according to the fans is that women's soccer teams are routinely treated differently than their male counterparts - and are often forced to play on substandard pitches.
According to the complaint, federation president Sunil Gulati admitted that the Aloha Stadium field "was the only venue out of 10 for the U.S. Soccer Women's Team victory tour where an inspection didn't take place." But the fans say the federation always inspects the field before the U.S. men's team takes the pitch.
"The federation regularly sends a representative to inspect the field for games for the U.S. Men's Soccer team. It failed to do so [here], instead claiming that because the Pro Bowl has played here in the past and University of Hawaii Warrior football uses the field, it assumed the field was safe," the fans say in the complaint. "Defendants were aware that adjustments to the field had to be made as the stadium is normally used as a football field and the field had to be lengthened and widened."
While stadium officials say the turf is only four years old, representatives of the U.S. team issued a statement that "there were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field, the artificial turf was actually pulling up out of the ground, and the turf itself was both low-grade and aging."
This past Friday, the state's attorney general opened stadium doors for the media to view the field.
"The NFL for years has expressed dissatisfaction with the stadium, but we always headed it off in the past, Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, told the Associated Press. The Hawaii Tourism Authority paid a $200,000 appearance fee to the national soccer organization, the complaint states.
The U.S. Soccer Federation has faced controversy over playing conditions for the women's team in the past and was the subject of a civil rights complaint in Canada's human rights tribunal following the 2015 Women's Open, the fans say.
"While the U.S. Men's Soccer team regularly plays on grass, the women's team is often forced to play on substandard and more dangerous artificial turf," the fans say in their complaint. "When men play on artificial turf, the federation often installs temporary grass over the field, which they refuse to do for the women's games."
The federation notified fans of the cancellation by email on Dec. 6, the day of the game. Unfortunately, that left no time for fans who had taken time off from work - or Spruance's friend, who traveled from San Diego just to see the game - to rearrange their lives, the fans say.
Adding insult to injury, fans that purchased their tickets directly from the federation did not receive immediate refunds, while those who purchased from nonparty Ticketmaster weren't reimbursed for the service fees they paid, the complaint says.
The fans are suing for negligent misrepresentation, statutory liabilities for failing to deliver services and deceptive marketing, negligence and unjust enrichment.
They seek general, special and punitive damages, a disgorgement order and reimbursement for their expenses.
The class is represented by John Perkin with Perkin & Faria in Honolulu.