FIFA plots ex­pan­sion

Ad­mirable aims won’t be easy

World Soccer - - Women's Football -

Let the bells ring out: FIFA has dou­bled the prize money for the 2019 Women’s World Cup and re­leased a ground­break­ing strat­egy aimed at get­ting all 211 con­stituent na­tions signed up to pro­mot­ing the fe­male game.

How­ever, the prob­lem with be­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion whose rep­u­ta­tion is as toxic as FIFA is that no one takes prom­ises at face value. While the game’s gov­ern­ing body has made changes since the down­fall of Sepp Blat­ter and the ExCo, the jury re­mains out on whether it is truly re­formed. Rather too much of the new lead­er­ship’s ac­tions seem rem­i­nis­cent of the old.

Thus the scep­ti­cism sur­round­ing the release of FIFA’s “first ever global strat­egy for women’s foot­ball”. For­mer US keeper Hope Solo spoke for many when she said:

“Un­til their ac­tions are in line with their words, then it is just more lip ser­vice.”

FIFA first claimed it wanted to trans­form the women’s game in the FIFA 2.0 mis­sion state­ment in 2016, though only three of the 69 pages fo­cused on the women’s game. Two years later it has fi­nally pro­duced a plan that is longer on dreams than de­tail.

While many of the as­pi­ra­tions are laud­able, less clear is how they are go­ing to be achieved. One is to “raise the pro­file of the FIFA Women’s World Cup”, yet even as the strat­egy was re­leased it be­came clear FIFA was al­low­ing the fi­nals of next sum­mer’s men’s Copa Amer­ica and CON­CA­CAF Gold Cup to be played on the same day as the Women’s World Cup Fi­nal. As USA coach Jill Ellis said: “In my own per­sonal opin­ion, play­ing three big matches in one day isn’t sup­port­ing the women’s game.”

FIFA is ex­pected to dou­ble the World Cup prize money from $15mil­lion to $30m. But Di­dier Deschamps’ France took home more from Rus­sia than all 24 women’s teams will share next sum­mer.

“I think they’re prob­a­bly look­ing for

pats on the back for the in­crease, and they’re not get­ting any from here,” said US cap­tain Me­gan Rapi­noe. “Fif­teen mil­lion dol­lars is noth­ing to them. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money, I get that, for the teams, but where are they even pulling this num­ber from?

“If they just want to sort of ar­bi­trar­ily do it, they could in­crease it by $100m and wouldn’t miss it.”

The ob­vi­ous re­sponse is that the men’s World Cup funds the women’s, and pretty much ev­ery­thing FIFA does, in­clud­ing the age-group tour­na­ments for both gen­ders – which is why one aim is no­table, with FIFA seek­ing to in­crease the com­mer­cial clout of the women’s game and “develop and im­ple­ment a women’s com­mer­cial foot­ball pro­gramme by 2026”.

FIFA’s chief women’s foot­ball of­fi­cer

Sarai Bare­man says: “I think we’re try­ing to change the per­cep­tion that women’s foot­ball is not this kind of poor lit­tle sis­ter wait­ing for the handout from the big brother of men’s foot­ball. We want to bring it into the main­stream.”

Other ini­tia­tives in­clude a ded­i­cated women’s foot­ball di­vi­sion, a com­mit­ment to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the num­ber of women in lead­ing po­si­tions in FIFA, a de­sire to dou­ble par­tic­i­pa­tion world­wide

to 60 mil­lion with ev­ery FA hav­ing a com­pre­hen­sive women’s plan in place by 2022, and women on ev­ery FA ex­ec­u­tive.

All of which is very wor­thy. But will it ac­tu­ally hap­pen?

There will be stern re­sis­tance in some parts of the world. In Iran, for ex­am­ple, there seemed some lib­er­al­i­sa­tion in al­low­ing women to watch matches when around 100 were al­lowed to at­tend a friendly with Bo­livia in Tehran. How­ever, even the pres­ence of this hand-picked, seg­re­gated group in­fu­ri­ated con­ser­va­tives in the Is­lamic repub­lic. Pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral Mo­ham­mad Ja­far Mon­taz­eri said: “We will deal with any of­fi­cial who wants to al­low women in­side sta­di­ums un­der any pre­text. When a wo­man goes to a sta­dium and is faced with half-naked men in sports clothes and sees them it will lead to sin.”

An­other 2018 men’s World Cup fi­nal­ist, Saudi Ara­bia, while po­lit­i­cally at odds with Iran, is equally hard­line. Un­like Iran they do not even have a na­tional women’s team.

The king­dom is not the only state with­out a women’s team. There are 210 men’s teams in the FIFA rank­ings but only 177 women’s – of which 30 are un­ranked, hav­ing ei­ther not played for 18 months or played less than five matches in to­tal.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber only ever play

“Un­til their ac­tions are in line with their words, then it is just more lip ser­vice” For­mer US keeper Hope Solo on FIFA’s prom­ises about the women’s game

re­gional cham­pi­onships and even a ma­jor foot­ball na­tion such as Ar­gentina did not play a women’s in­ter­na­tional be­tween De­cem­ber 2014 and Oc­to­ber 2017.

There will be push­back from some of the es­tab­lished parts of the women’s game at the idea of a new global club com­pe­ti­tion. Fed­er­a­tions such as UEFA will see that as a power grab and fix­ture con­ges­tion could be an is­sue. The clubs will, though, be en­cour­aged at the prospect of be­ing com­pen­sated for their play­ers’ par­tic­i­pa­tion at a World Cup, like men’s clubs are, and the play­ers will wel­come FIFA’s likely fund­ing of busi­ness-class flights to the fi­nals.

FIFA ad­vo­cates point to the many pro­grammes it funds, from In­dia to Peru, from work­shops to tour­na­ments, to pro­mote the women’s game. There is a lot of good work be­ing done un­der the radar, but with the big-pic­ture ini­tia­tives it re­mains a case of wait and see.

Out­spo­ken...for­mer USA keeper Hope Solo in the 2015 World Cup Fi­nal against Ja­pan

Few games... Ar­gentina’s Maria Bose­gundo (right)

Pro­mo­tion... sarai Bare­man (right) and fIfa sec­re­tary gen­eral fatma samoura with the 2019 Women’s World Cup mas­cot, et­tie

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