FIFA plots expansion
Admirable aims won’t be easy
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