The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup officially kicks off on Friday in France, with a match between the host nation and South Korea. But before the first whistle blew, FIFA made history by hosting its first Women’s Convention and announcing a partnership with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to promote global gender equality.
In a statement on FIFA’s website, the global governing body of football said that there was an “overwhelming consensus that the women’s game is in the best position it has ever been in, while the view was that this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup could act as a springboard for confederations and associations to move the game forward and make football accessible to all.”
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that while this Women’s World Cup is, in fact, set up to be the most financially successful and competitive one yet, this is happening in spite of FIFA, not because of it.
For decades, FIFA all but ignored women’s football. In fact, leading up to this World Cup, FIFA garnered favorable headlines for doubling the prize money available for the Women’s World Cup, from $15 million to $30 million. At the exact same time, their announcement that they were increasing the men’s World Cup prize money from $400 million to $440 million for the 2022 World Cup went largely unremarked upon. Yes, that means that in 2015, the last Women’s World Cup, the gap in prize money between the men’s and women’s tournaments was $385 million. Now? It’s $410 million.
“It’s massively higher than the  World Cup,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino nevertheless insisted, in defense of the enhanced inequity. “We are making progress. We have to invest in women’s football to make it even self-sustaining to some extent.”
Infantino really, really wants everyone to believe that he thinks investing in women’s football is important. At the Women’s Convention on Friday, Infantino boasted that FIFA was paying women’s teams $50 million this World Cup. Technically, that is true! This year, in addition to the $30 million prize money, FIFA awarded $11.5 million to the 24 women’s teams to use for training camps and tournament preparation, and another $8.5 million to clubs who are releasing players for the event.
However, what Infantino didn’t mention was that if you look at the $50 million figure, the inequity gets even more extreme. Because for the 2018 men’s World Cup, FIFA allocated $48 million for preparation costs, and gave $209 million to clubs that sent players to the tournament. That means, the total FIFA paid out for the 2018 World Cup was $657 million — $607 million more than the $50 million figure Infantino is so proud to be giving the women in France.
These disparities trickle down, reinforcing an imbalance that has perpetuated for decades. Federations are much more likely to invest in the men’s national teams, because qualifying for the men’s World Cup is so much more lucrative. And women’s national teams continue to struggle even after making it to World Cups, because the financial incentives are so low.
Yes, the winners of the women’s World Cup in France will receive $4 million. But teams that don’t advance past the group stage will only receive $750,000. That money will have to be split between the 23 players and their federation. Australia, for example, has an agreement between the women’s team and the federation that players get 30% of World Cup prize money to split equally among all 23 players. If they don’t advance past the group stage, that will only be about $9,783 each. Considering most women’s soccer players don’t make a living wage playing professionally, this is certainly not enough prize money to keep players invested in the game.
This week, Australia’s football players union (PFA) announced an equal pay campaign targeted at FIFA.
Perhaps, you many be generously thinking, FIFA can’t increase the money for the women because it doesn’t have enough money to spare. But, alas, even after the massive corruption scandal that left multiple former FIFA officials behind bars, in the four-year span including the 2018 men’s World Cup, FIFA’s reserve pile of cash rose to $2.74 billion, and its revenue reached $6.4 billion, according to a report by the Associated Press.
And, while men’s World Cup is much more established and commercially successful than its women’s counterpart at this point in time, the truth is, since FIFA bundles so many of the lucrative broadcast rights and sponsorship agreements for the two events together in one neat package, it’s very hard to tell how much, exactly, the women’s event is capable of bringing in on its own.
“That’s something never really analyzed,” Tatjana Haenni, who stepped down as FIFA head of women’s soccer in 2017, told the AP. “What is the potential value of the Women’s World Cup? Nobody knows the Women’s World Cup commercial value because it’s not sold separately. This is something that should at least be discussed.”
The truth is, FIFA had to be dragged kicking and screaming into even providing a modicum of institutional support to women’s football around the globe, and while the bar has raised slightly over the decades, it’s still only about ankle-high.
The sexism has seeped into everything that FIFA touches, and the words of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter still cast a dark shadow over the event.
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts,” Blatter said just 15 years ago. “Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men—such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”
These archaic attitudes and the minuscule progress have left many within the women’s game calling for big-time reforms.
“I would like to see a major paradigm shift and sort of a major overhaul,” U.S. Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe said last month. “There’s been such a lack of investment for all of these years and such a lack of care and attention that doubling or tripling or quadrupling investment, care, attention to the women’s game I think would be appropriate.”