In women’s soccer, the summer of 2019 felt like the summer of ’69.
It was unforgettable. Women’s football on TV in the pubs, at Glastonbury, all over the papers and on the radio. There were pop-up events and brand activations – everyone wanted to be a part of something exciting, a sport on the rise.
The number of fans who watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup supported the general hysteria. For the first time, the tournament surpassed one billion viewers on all platforms. The final was watched by more than 260 million people and the television audience for the entire tournament exceeded 990 million. Alex Morgan’s tea drink celebration at the United States’ victory over England in the semi-finals sparked a storm and a media frenzy, indicating just how dominant women’s soccer has become.
Gianni Infantino, fifa‘s, called the tournament a “cultural phenomenon” and, just weeks after the sun went down on the United States’ triumph over the Netherlands in Lyon, Infantino was already launching the next phase of the Women’s World Cup. The 24-team format had only two editions, but FIFA had eyes for more, as the governing body often does, and wanted to expand the competition to 32 teams.
Infantino said just before the final that FIFA needed to “act fast” to expand the tournament. By the end of the month, the idea had been approved by the FIFA Council.
Infantino said the move would mean “dozens more member associations will organize their women’s football program knowing that they have a real chance of qualifying” for the World Cup.
“The FIFA Women’s World Cup is the most powerful trigger for the professionalization of women’s football, but it happens once every four years and is only the top of a much larger pyramid,” he added. “In the meantime, we all have a duty to do the legwork and strengthen the development infrastructure for women’s football across all confederations.”
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The reaction to the expansion was not particularly positive. Many felt FIFA was asking women’s football to work before it could walk, chasing quick wins over careful development. There were many issues around FIFA’s existing investment in women’s football and the complete lack of transparency on where the national associations were spending the money.
After the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the Nigerian women’s team ruled on unpaid bonuses owed by the Nigerian Football Federation for several years. They even threatened to stage a sit-in at his team’s hotel. The team had protested in 2016 after they did not receive promised bonuses following their victory in the Africa Cup of Nations.
In France, the USWNT’s 13-0 loss to Thailand became a talking point for days, with the resource gap playing out on the most visible stage. But FIFA did not seem fazed by any of these concerns, as it remained steadfast in its commitment to growth.
Infantino’s bet is that federations will spend more on women’s soccer because they want a chance to qualify for the World Cup. But what the last four-year cycle has shown is that many teams qualify regardless of their federation’s endorsement.
Ahead of this World Cup, which begins in Australia and New Zealand on July 20, there are several participating teams that have been or are involved in disputes with their national federations.
Last month, the Jamaican women’s team published a joint letter criticizing the Jamaican Football Federation for a lack of support in the run-up to the tournament. they said that pre-World Cup friendlies had not materialized and they had not had access to adequate resources. Jamaica made its 2019 Women’s World Cup debut against the odds, after the women’s team was shut down 10 years earlier due to lack of funds. Later they were relaunched thanks to the financial support of Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella.
South Africa has just resolved a dispute between the players and the national federation over the payment of bonuses for the upcoming World Cup. The players had withdrawn from a pre-World Cup friendly match against Botswana in protest and head coach Desiree Ellis was forced to field a substitute youth team. The dispute was eventually ended thanks to a donation from a national charity.
Haiti’s national team has been largely forgotten amid the turmoil and unrest in the country, but somehow they defied the odds, with little funding or support, and qualified for this summer’s tournament via the play-offs in February.
One part of FIFA’s plan to expand the Women’s World Cup included doubling the prize money to $60 million (£46.8 million). This summer, prize money for the World Cup will total $110 million, and FIFA exceeded its promise for the tournament.
In France four years ago, the 24 teams shared $30 million in participation and prize money, compared with $440 million allocated to the 32 teams at the last men’s World Cup, with another $210 million distributed. in compensation to the clubs that employed the players in Qatar.
FIFA has also guaranteed that prize money for the 2023 Women’s World Cup will be allocated directly to the players through their federations in a much-needed move to demand payment from the players and end the historic cases of FIFA appearances. Unpaid World Cup. Amounts will range from $30,000 per player for group stage participation to $270,000 per player for those on the tournament-winning team.
FIFA will also increase funds for participating member associations, which these countries can use to cover World Cup-related costs. The remaining funds are intended to be used for development purposes. These are also some big numbers, with the winning country raising an additional $4.29 million.
FIFA’s increasing financial commitments are crucial for this expanded World Cup, especially for the eight debutants: Haiti, Morocco, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia.
It’s always exciting to see new nations make their mark on the world stage and the expansion of the Women’s World Cup opens up opportunities for more players around the world. The game must continue to grow globally. FIFA’s increased investment should also be applauded, but, in a game still so globally underdeveloped, it’s hard to ignore the still-existing problems and chaotic preparations that have plagued so many nations competing in this tournament.
It is clear that there is still a reluctance on the part of many national associations to invest properly in their women’s national teams. Preliminary evidence suggests that a 32-team World Cup might not be enough to change the underspending that has existed for decades.
(Top photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images)