The 2023 World Cup was a “watershed” for women’s football. Now comes the real action

Gianni Infantino talks a lot like an old man who only listens to old men. He’s not quite as brazen as his FIFA predecessor, the tyrannosaurus Sepp Blatter. but this Rhetoric sometimes strays From baffling to embarrassing to silly. On Friday, he went even further, infuriating many with A quote that spreads like wildfirecontext be damned. Speaking at the second FIFA Women’s Football Conference In Sydney, he told women to “pick the right fights, pick the right fights”.

He urged them to “press” for equality in football, and to “press” the “doors” of FIFA.

“You have the power to do it,” he said.

He never acknowledged that men, and he more than anyone else, have far more power and far more responsibility to right the historic wrongs that have oppressed women’s football for decades.

The most confusing part of his baffled tirade was that he and Fifa, despite these rhetorical lapses, were actually making a lot of effort.

He was speaking on the 30th of a The highly successful Women’s World Cup, the World Cup in which FIFA invested and FIFA reaped the rewards. It broke records and exceeded expectations. He. She Changed players’ lives and perceptions of ordinary people. It was a “paradigm shift.” Megan Rapinoe The point of no return for the women’s soccer ship projected a $570 million increase that predicted future earnings and unlimited growth.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Saray Barman, FIFA’s director of women’s football, in an emotional speech on Saturday. “We have surpassed previous potential. This tournament was a turning point. We used to talk about women’s football as a cultural movement. And this year, we felt a seismic shift in the way people see the women’s game.”

Their biggest challenge now is sustaining that shift in the three-year, 10-month period between finals, and using this quadrennial show to mitigate rather than mask the sport’s broader growing pains.

“Yes, the World Cup is incredibly special, but it’s a bit like a bubble for some of these players, it’s not their day-to-day experience,” said Sarah Gregorius, director at World Football Players’ Association.

Many of those daily experiences remain unsettled, riddled with hardships and sexism—both acute and systemic.

And while FIFA can’t handle everything on its own, it can help.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (2L) and Queen Letizia of Spain (3L) hold the trophy with Spain #05 defender Ivana Andrés as Spain's players celebrate on the podium after Australia vs New Zealand's 2023 victory in the women's soccer final between Spain and England.  At Stadium Australia in Sydney, August 20, 2023 (Photo by Izhar Khan/AFP) (Photo by Izhar Khan/AFP via Getty Images)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Queen Letizia of Spain hold the trophy on behalf of SpainThe Johan players celebrate on the podium after winning the 2023 Women’s World Cup final. (Photo by Izhar Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Feasibility study, investment

Infantino’s now famous speech He was also full of back pats. It was self-congratulatory, as if seeking to praise FIFA’s long-overdue awakening to women’s football. Essentially, FIFA wants credit for cleaning up the mess its own negligence helped create. This branch of Infantino’s rhetoric upsets some pioneers who pushed for the investment long before he did, before it became common sense.

And once again, the rhetoric undercuts a new reality: FIFA seems to be doing a really good job.

Infantino is not a visionary feminist. But he’s a ruthless businessman bent on increasing FIFA’s revenue, and he seems to have woken up to the business case for women’s football in the past decade. He has set aside $1 billion for worldwide development. FIFA has committed more than $400 million for the 2023 World Cup, to everything from improved player facilities to increased marketing and promotion. It took a course that was previously combined with the Men’s World Cup, mainly as a free add-on for broadcasters and sponsors, and The rights began to be sold separately. She set out on this new path with the express aim of monetizing women’s football. Indeed, she won.

Fifa knew – because the women’s game had not been so oppressively promoted for so long – that returns on investment might not be immediate. Infantino said some people warned him that a properly funded Women’s World Cup could be a money loser, to which he replied, “Well, if we have to support, we will support.”

But in fact, this World Cup generated more than $570 million in revenue. And that’s how we broke even. We didn’t lose any money. launch [single-sport world championship] – besides the men’s World Cup, of course – on a global stage.

The product in the field was also amazing. The decision to expand to 32 teams is evidenced by the likes JamaicaAnd South Africa And Morocco. The games have attracted unprecedented interest everywhere from Europe to Vietnam to Colombia. Perhaps the most refreshing feature of FIFA’s investment is that, at least for most of the month, the prevailing facts were not about inequality or grievances. They were about to take over football.

And in the process, common sense became undeniable. FIFA sees that clearly. Increasingly wealthy American investors Watch it in the National Women’s Soccer League. The ladies’ game can be profitable. The problem is that on all six continents, countless football officials (mostly men) still have their eyes closed.

It is for this reason that South African players reached the World Cup in A Fighting with their FA over bonus payments; And why Jamaican players had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to support their preparations; and why so many others had to overcome abuse, the depths of which we will probably never know.

“Players perform despite mistreatment by national federations,” Alex Culvin, FIFPRO’s head of strategy and research, told Yahoo Sports. “This is a fact.”

South African players start their ranks before the round of 16 match between the Netherlands and South Africa at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Sydney, Australia, August 6, 2023 (Photo by Zhang Chen/Xinhua via Getty Images)

South African players start their ranks before the round of 16 match between the Netherlands and South Africa at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sydney, Australia, August 6, 2023 (Photo by Zhang Chen/Xinhua via Getty Images)

And while the optimistic view, expressed by Barman on Friday, is that full Australian stadiums and inevitable fanfare will naturally spread the gospel, history suggests that arms must be folded.

“I think this is where FIFA needs to do more,” Rapinoe said back in June. “Yes, I did a lot [with the World Cup]But your power goes beyond that – to mandate that these federations support their teams in the way they will support everyone else at the Men’s World Cup.”

“FIFA’s role is the most important,” said Colvin. “Without their pressure, without their enforcement, without their strategic vision for women’s football… [there are] member associations who probably don’t have the best intentions for their women’s team”. She said it was FIFA’s duty to “really push them to the next level”.

FIFA is making great strides, but the exponential growth of women’s football is key

Each of those member associations, the 211 national associations that make up FIFA, receive funding from the global governing body via FIFA Forward Program. Its latest iteration promises $5 million per union over the next four years for operating costs, $3 million “to carry out specific, well-planned football projects” and up to $1.2 million in other needs-based aid.

The hard part is like It was introduced by the US Department of Justice in the last decadeis keeping track of where all the money is actually going.

FIFA claims – and most of the evidence seems to support the assertion – that its vastly improved audit system has largely ensured that money goes into football, and not into the pockets of wealthy men. However, there are still questions about what percentage of that money goes towards women’s matches, and even concerns that World Cup prize money will not reach the players.

FIFA promised a minimum of $30,000 for each player at the Women’s World Cup – and $60,000 for each participation in the round of 16, with the amounts increasing round by round – but the idea that these would be direct payments was a bit deceptive. Infantino admitted last month that they would be introduced through the national federations, “and then of course the federations would pay the relevant sums to their players,” he said.

But will they? Twice Infantino has called it a “recommendation” rather than a mandate. “This kind of thing leaves a little bit of uncertainty for the players,” said Colvin, FIFPRO’s Head of Strategy.

Calvin continued, “But for us, there was an assurance that this money would go straight [to players]. If that does not happen, she said, “there must be consequences,” and she is confident that it will happen. “We hope that the distribution to the players will be the way it was guaranteed, 6-10 weeks after the end of the tournament.”

Barman, FIFA President of Women’s Football, to reporters in Sydney on Saturday that she would “personally ensure that every dollar paid to these players ends up in their bank accounts.” If so, the $30,000 alone would allow some players to fully support meager club salaries and professionalism. (a recent FIFPRO survey Of the 362 international women’s players found, 60% consider themselves semi-pro or amateur.)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - 19 AUGUST: FIFA Chief Women's Football Officer Sarai Barman delivers keynote address - The Positive Impact of the FIFA Women's World Cup during the FIFA Women's Football Conference at the International Convention Centre, Darling Harbor on 19 August 2023 in Sydney/Gadigal , Australia.  (Photo by Maja Hetje - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

FIFA Women’s Football Director Sarai Barman delivers a keynote address during the FIFA Women’s Football Conference on August 19, 2023 in Sydney/Gadigal, Australia. (Photo by Maja Hatij/FIFA via Getty Images)

The broader concern is that FIFA will not meet its other obligations. I talked about protection but she did It often fails to protect players from abuse. She has talked about strengthening football for women’s clubs with new competitions, but she is preparing for a competition Club World Cup 2025 consisting of 32 teamsThe concept of the Women’s Club World Cup remains just that, as it was nearly a decade ago.

When it goes beyond the modern command, when it implements strategies, this relatively progressive FIFA has done wonders for women’s football – for a sport neglected by its FIFA predecessors. The 2023 World Cup was a shining new proof of this. World Cup 2027 – especially if it is hosted by the United States and Mexico – It will certainly be another splendor, and It can be accompanied by equal wages.

But this transition period, and the thousands of players who will never make it to the World Cup, are just as important. It is important that FIFA promote the growth of the club game, working collaboratively at both the national and local levels to accelerate the economic maturity of the sport.

“What matters to us at FIFPRO is that these conversations don’t end there [the World Cup final on] said Gregory. “I want to make sure everyone is still talking about the needs of these players and their rights come Monday, come September, come October, and in the years ahead for the Women’s World Cup.”

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