Women’s soc­cer owes lit­tle to FIFA

That Sepp Blat­ter hasn’t at­tended one game at this World Cup is telling.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By An­drew Zim­bal­ist hy isn’t

WSepp Blat­ter in Canada? Blat­ter, the FIFA pres­i­dent who said he would step down in the wake of a cor­rup­tion scan­dal, likes to take credit for the global growth of women’s soc­cer over the last two decades. In an in­ter­view with the BBC, he even de­scribed him­self as the “god­fa­ther” of the sport.

But he has yet to ap­pear for a sin­gle game of the women’s World Cup in Canada. In­deed, he has not even dis­patched his chief lieu­tenant, FIFA Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Jerome Val­cke, to at­tend. By con­trast, both Val­cke and Blat­ter were in Brazil for the en­tirety of the 2014 men’s World Cup.

De­spite his “god­fa­ther” claims, Blat­ter has noth­ing to do with the surg­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the women’s game. True, he once urged the play­ers to wear tighter shorts — a ploy to grab the at­ten­tion of a po­ten­tial male au­di­ence — but they wisely ig­nored his ad­vice.

Blat­ter’s ab­sence re­flects FIFA’s not- so- be­nign ne­glect of the women’s World Cup.

FIFA’s latest an­nual fi­nan­cial re­port touts the $ 5.7 bil­lion it brought in dur­ing the 2011- 14 qua­dren­nium. Although the 2011 women’s World Cup in Ger­many con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to this sum, you wouldn’t know it from read­ing the re­port; it sounds like ev­ery last penny came from the men’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Given that FIFA does not ex­plic­itly rec­og­nize the women’s World Cup’s fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion to its cof­fers, it is not sur­pris­ing that the women get the short end of FIFA’s prize money. Ac­cord­ing to the BBC, the to­tal prize money of­fered to the men’s teams in the 2014 World Cup was $ 576 mil­lion; the to­tal that will be of­fered to the women’s teams in 2015 is $ 15 mil­lion. Do the math: The men’s prize money is 38.4 times larger than the women’s.

For more ev­i­dence of un­equal treat­ment, look no fur­ther than the ground on which the play­ers com­pete. The men’s World Cup is played on grass. But for the women’s World Cup, FIFA said Cana­dian venues could use ar­ti­fi­cial turf. The women protested, to no avail.

FIFA even suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing some bad pub­lic­ity for the women’s games by ma­nip­u­lat­ing at­ten­dance fig­ures. Each of the con­tests dur­ing the group stage in Canada took place as part of a dou­ble­header. FIFA counted the num­ber of tick­ets sold to each dou­ble­header twice, ar­ti­fi­cially inf lat­ing the true fig­ure.

Nev­er­the­less, the Cana­dian Soc­cer Assn. has ex­pe­ri­enced very strong de­mand for tick­ets and ex­pects to sell close to 1.5 mil­lion seats be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion ends.

Any­one who doubts the ap­peal of women’s soc­cer needs to know that it was the women’s World Cup fi­nal be­tween the United States and China in 1999 that reaped the high­est U. S. TV rat­ings of any soc­cer match ever, at­tract­ing 11.4% of U. S. tele­vi­sion house­holds. In a dis­tant sec­ond was the men’s 2014 World Cup match be­tween the United States and Bel­gium at 9.8%.

Per­haps Blat­ter would like to take credit for the 1999 rat­ings record, even though he be­came FIFA’s pres­i­dent just a year ear­lier. More prop­erly, the credit should go to Ti­tle IX — the fed­eral law that pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of sex in any fed­er­ally funded ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram — to charis­matic play­ers such as Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, and to soc­cer’s es­ca­lat­ing pop­u­lar­ity among young ath­letes in this coun­try.

There is, at least, one hero of the women’s game within FIFA: Su­nil Gu­lati, the pres­i­dent of U. S. Soc­cer. Af­ter the fail­ure of two women’s pro­fes­sional soc­cer leagues, first by poor de­sign and sec­ond by the great re­ces­sion and a weak fi­nan­cial model, Gu­lati com­mit­ted mil­lions of dol­lars from U. S. Soc­cer to found the Na­tional Women’s Soc­cer League in 2013. U. S. Soc­cer has spent over $ 10 mil­lion so far in sup­port­ing the league.

U. S. Soc­cer cov­ers the league’s front of­fice ex­penses, its tele­vi­sion costs and the salaries of all the na­tional team play­ers. It is now run­ning two mar­ket­ing cam­paigns to pro­mote the women’s World Cup.

Women’s soc­cer, in­ter­na­tion­ally and in the United States, does not need Sepp Blat­ter. It needs lead­ers like Gu­lati and the pos­i­tive at­ten­tion from the media that it richly de­serves. An­drew Zim­bal­ist is the Robert A. Woods Pro­fes­sor of Eco­nom­ics at Smith Col­lege and au­thor of “Cir­cus Max­imus: The Eco­nomic Gam­ble Be­hind Host­ing the Olympics and the World Cup.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.