By Unnati Naidu
FIFA wants to help Women's Football grow; there are better ideas than holding the prestigious World Cup every two years.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has proposed a study to see how switching to every two years would affect the game. The Women's World Cup is currently held every four years. "We believe the future of football is at a critical juncture. The ongoing pandemic has further exacerbated the many issues football has faced," said SAFF president Yasser Al-Misehal. FIFA president Gianni Infantino praised the proposal and called it "eloquent and detailed," with 166 national federations voting in favour with 22 votes against it.
In December 2019, President Gianni Infantino said, "We should organize the Women's World Cup every two years instead of every four years because it has a significant and positive impact on the women's game. This is something we need to consider, and we are considering it. There are a lot of exciting points with regards to women's football in the next few years."
While all of it sounds good to FIFA, it might not be the best idea to proceed with this, and here's why. The World Cup and Olympics are the most prestigious tournaments every nation dreams of competing in and winning. A World Cup every two years takes away the value from the contest for the spectators that Gianni is so hell-bent on pleasing. While he hopes to have record sales and broadcasting like the 2019 games, these spectators would eventually lose interest, considering how the games would now occur twice in the same period. And let's not begin with the amount of work the players and the rest of the team put in to be at their very best for this exceptional tournament.
Not only will the spectators and viewership be affected, but so will all the International Football Ecosystem. If the World Cup's held every two years, the Olympics and European Championships would have to reschedule massively. Other continental events, such as the Asian Cup, Copa America, and Africa Cup of Nations, will never achieve the degree of reputation enjoyed by the men's game, limiting the number of FAs ready to spend meaningfully in their women's programs.
Needless to say that the US National Team won the last World Cup in 2019; we all witnessed them win against the Netherlands. But did we care to think about the prize money they received? A mere $30 million (double of what was in 2015) when you compare it to the men who will receive $440 million (approximately) in the 2022 games. There is currently enough money in football to support women's football without altering the World Cup. FIFA does not need to hold the games every two years to generate money to invest in women's football; it already has billions that they could use to support.
FIFA has stated that Women's football is the single most significant growth opportunity for football today, yet we've seen them make a negligible investment into the sport. FIFA issued the Global Women's Football Strategy in 2018, outlining how FIFA will collaborate with confederations and member associations, clubs and players, the media, fans, and other stakeholders to tackle and overcome obstacles. Despite being a 'non-profit organization, FIFA and its approach to women's (and men's) football are profoundly entangled in, and supportive of, the global capitalist order, resulting in a paradox epitomized by the Women's Football Strategy. On the other hand, FIFA has demonstrated a willingness to use this possibility only progressively, not fully supporting women's football, but instead needing women's football to sustain itself, and thus FIFA. In the words of the FIFA President, 'Women's football doesn't need charity; we have to focus on ensuring that the revenues grow to ensure it grows…and it can stand on its own.'
Interestingly, FIFA does not regard decades of investment in men's football as "charity" but instead as a prudent and lucrative investment. As a result, one can adequately question how continuing to invest more in men's football than in women's football can be viewed as satisfying FIFA's non-discrimination promises. Indeed, the opposite argument is likely to be more persuasive: directing a more significant proportion of FIFA's (financial and strategic) resources toward supporting and marketing the women's game than the men's game would appear to be a reasonable (if not necessary) approach to overcoming the lack of investment in women that, according to FIFA's admission, has characterized the organization's entire history. The Women's Football Strategy sheds light on the gender inequalities that football has long served to normalize under the auspices of FIFA. However, it does not alter FIFA's preference for (short-term) financial benefit over all else. So far, FIFA has demonstrated a willingness to address gender discrimination only insofar as it supports this aim, either directly through revenue generated by women's football, as indicated above, or indirectly through boosting FIFA's global reputation.
If anything, FIFA should invest more in a more vital club game than in the World Cup. Men's football is more robust because of its club games; the same can't be for women. Before International football reaches its peak, there need to be strong bases with the clubs. There are currently fewer than 50 earnest women's clubs around the world. FIFA should devote its time and resources to resolving this issue. Recently FIFA released a survey building on its Global Women's Football Strategy focusing on governance, finance, fan engagement, players, on-field matters, and some impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the survey's conclusions were predictable. In 73 percent of the leagues surveyed, players in championship teams were paid more than players on other teams. Better facilities translated to better performance, with half of the teams with the most facilities winning a league title in the previous five years. It also stated that 70% of women's football clubs operate at a loss while only 13% generate about $1 million, and half of those come from sponsorship deals.
The survey clearly shows that better facilities meant better performances, and better facilities only come in with increased investment, which most clubs currently lack. FIFA wants women's football to sustain itself, but how will that happen if no money is invested in these clubs and players? Not even men's football can sustain itself without some external resources, and it has only reached this stage after years of consistent investment.
With all said, the kind of impact this could have on players' health and lives is yet to be determined. It wouldn't be for the better, that's for sure.
FIFA can do a lot to invest seriously into women's football. Still, instead, it's progressing towards just milking out as much money as they can from something that's catching the eye and having increased engagement with the audience. Football had never been about money before. Still, it's now turning into precisely that. MONEY.
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