FIFA president Gianni Infantino says women justified protesting cash inequalities
KIGALI, Rwanda -- FIFA president Gianni Infantino understands why female footballers are unhappy about the lack of gender equality in World Cup prize money but says doubling the cash for finalists to $30 million represents significant progress.
Ahead of the FIFA Council on Friday ratifying the financial package for the 2019 Women's World Cup, players' unions in Australia, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand wrote to world soccer's governing body to raise concerns about why there is vastly more cash set aside for the men's showpiece tournament. Players from Women's World Cup holder, the United States, also called on FIFA to fulfill "statutory obligations on gender equality" over the cash winnings.
"Critical comments are perfectly justified because ... the unions and the players they defend their own interests, which is a fair point," Infantino said Thursday. "We need to try to find what is the most balanced way, and I think we made a step and there will be many more steps going ahead. Maybe one day women's football will generate more than men's football."
For now, the men's World Cup generates most of FIFA's billion-dollar income, and it is reflected in the prize money.
France earned $38 million from FIFA for winning the men's World Cup in July. A person with knowledge of the figures said the women's champion next year in France will earn $4 million, which is twice the amount collected by the Americans in 2015. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to release details ahead of the council meeting.
On top of the $30 million based on the progress of teams in France, FIFA will make two additional payments that have never previously been made for the Women's World Cup. FIFA will share $11.5 million with the 24 teams for tournament preparations, including training camps, and $8.5 million will be split by clubs releasing players, the person said, confirming figures previously reported by Sports Illustrated.
According to Infantino, that is "a significant step in the right direction."
"It's massively higher than the last World Cup," Infantino told The Associated Press and The New York Times ahead of the FIFA Council meeting. "We are making progress. We have to invest in women's football to make it even self-sustaining to some extent."
The prize money for the men's World Cup in Russia this year rose 12 percent to $400 million. FIFA gave teams $48 million for preparation costs and also shared $209 million with clubs which sent players to the tournament -- vastly larger sums than allocated to women's soccer.
"It's very complex to find ... models where everything is equal," Infantino said.
But in a letter to FIFA last week, Australia's players' union cited FIFA statutes which feature a commitment to "gender equality." The union pointed out Australian men shared $2.4 million for the group stage at the World Cup in Russia, but the women's team will only split $225,000 at the same phase in France next year.
"The impact of this discrimination of women players is exacerbated by the dependence of many women players including our members on their income from their national team duties, in contrast to men," the players' unions from Australia, Sweden and Norway wrote in separate letters to FIFA using the same language.
In a statement sent to The Associated Press by international players' union FIFPro, the U.S. players urged FIFA to do even more to grow the women's game.
"Substantial investment is required to overcome generations of inequality and discrimination in the game, to make football the world's pre-eminent sport for women and girls," the United States Women's National Team Players' Association said. "We are committed to working alongside our fellow unions, as well as with FIFA and U.S. Soccer (federation) stakeholders, to have continuous dialogue around how FIFA and USSF can fulfill their respective statutory obligations on gender equality, including the prize money for the 2019 World Cup, which is an area we feel immediate and impactful investment can be made."
FIFA has recently launched a strategy with one intention to generate more cash for women's soccer.
"I can understand from the players' perspective certainly because for them it's affects how much they're paid," said Sarai Bareman, FIFA's chief women's football officer. "People want to feel valued for what they do and part of that is remuneration.
"The vast majority of women's football players across the world are still amateur," Bareman added. "That's the most important thing for us. If we want to build the whole ecosystem of the women's game, it has to start there."