FIFA prez sees bigger boost to WWC prize money

PASADENA, Calif. -- A month after pledging to double the prize money for the 2023 Women's World Cup to $60 million, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said Saturday that he believes the organization will exceed that goal.

"We have until 2023 to discuss about the prize money," Infantino said. "I think we need to market it as well in a certain way. I'm very confident, I'm sure we can go higher than doubling."

On vacation in California, Infantino spent Saturday as part of the largest domestic crowd to watch the United States women's national team play since 2015. The back-to-back World Cup winners opened their five-game celebratory tour with a win against Ireland in the Rose Bowl in front of 37,040 people.

After taking photos with U.S. coach Jill Ellis and others after the game, Infantino spoke glowingly of the reaction to the recently concluded World Cup in France that he's experienced. He said that the event was a frequent subject of conversation on recent trips he made to Africa and the Middle East, even among people previously unfamiliar with women's soccer.

"This last World Cup in France has really marked a before and an after for women's football," Infantino said.

Infantino also repeated his desire to implement further women's events, including a Club World Cup for professional teams and a world league for national teams. He pointed to last week's fast-tracked ratification of an expanded Women's World Cup field as the first step.

On Wednesday, the FIFA Council approved Infantino's plan to expand to 32 teams in 2023 and reopen the bidding process to host that event.

"I was ecstatic that they increased the number of participants," Ellis said this week. "I think that's a big step. I think with that, you sometimes will get lopsided scores, in terms of teams growing. But we've just seen the velocity at which the women's game has grown over the last four years. ... I think it was a real eye opener to them just to see how marketable, how fan friendly, how exciting the women's game is, in terms of being able to promote it and gain sponsorship."

The issue of equal pay remains a sticking point for both FIFA and U.S. Soccer.

As was the case after the World Cup final, when Infantino was on the field to award medals, fans in the Rose Bowl chanted "equal pay" on multiple occasions during Saturday's game.

Even a substantial increase in the prize money for 2023 would leave the women's event lagging well behind the men's event. The next edition of that tournament in 2022 will feature prize money of $440 million, up from $400 million in 2018. Were FIFA to only double the prize money for the women, the disparity between the two tournaments would actually grow.

In an open letter to his organization's members on Monday, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, Infantino's host Saturday, placed some of the blame for the pay disparity between the American men's and women's teams on the slow-to-narrow gap in FIFA prize money.

"Of course the U.S. team, the way they performed, the way they won, the way they come over contributed greatly to the success," Infantino said Saturday of the World Cup he views as such a catalyst for the sport. "Now up to us, together with them, to build something sustainable and meaningful for the future."