Photo Copyright Michael Chow for USA TODAY Sports
Last week, FIFA announced significant increases in investment in the Women’s World Cup, including an over 300 percent increase in prize money in 2023. In addition to the prize money, FIFA will also be paying roughly $31 million to each qualifying team and an additional $11 million will be used to reimburse clubs for player appearances in the tournament. In his closing remarks at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Rwanda, newly re-elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino also stated that he hoped to achieve equal pay by the next World Cup cycle.
Outside of financial benefits, FIFA also stated that the “number of delegates per team, the level of international and domestic travel for the tournament, accommodation standards and rooms, team base camps and facilities, amongst other services extended by FIFA to participating teams will be delivered to the same level as those delivered to the men last year, and into the future.”
These major developments are thanks to the tireless advocacy of women’s players from around the world and FIFPRO, the worldwide players’ union for international professional footballers. Last October, in what was the largest piece of collective action ever undertaken by women’s football players, FIFPRO, member unions, and 150 players from 25 women’s national teams sent a letter to FIFA calling for improved conditions and prize money. Since then FIFPRO has been negotiating on behalf of their members to make these changes a reality and, as the recent announcements from FIFA show, they’ve made some significant progress.
This Friday, FIFPRO’s Director of Global Policy & Strategic Relations Women’s Football Sarah Gregorius, and General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann spoke to reporters about these recent developments and what they were still working for in the future.
Bigger than prize money
Although the increase in prize money has gotten most of the attention, the equalization of conditions and the addition of preparation funds were just as important because they have such an impact on the material well-being of players.
Gregorius, who is also a former player for New Zealand and appeared in three World Cups, explains that there were marked disparities in pretty much every experiential aspect of playing in a Women’s or Men’s World Cup. For example, rooming and allocations were different. FIFA would pay for men to have single rooms while women were only given double rooms. When playing in an emotionally draining tournament, sharing a room with another person for four to six weeks straight impacts a player’s well-being and preparedness for competition.
There were also disparities in travel accommodations. FIFA would pay for men to have chartered or business class flights while women would only be offered commercial flights. Gregorius pointed out that flying business class also impacts players by allowing them the privacy of a business class lounge. A well-known player had told her that, during a previous World Cup, she was regularly recognized and approached or followed around the airport which was stressful.
Additionally, 2023 will be the first time teams will have their own home bases and training centers to work from. This is something that has been standard in the men’s tournament for some time.
In terms of preparation funds, these are especially important to the many players and federations that are still amateur or semi-pro explained Baer-Hoffmann. With the tournament expanding to 32 countries this year, there are numerous teams with no professional league or infrastructure in place to make sure players have had adequate time to get ready to play in the tournament. Preparation funds help professionalize players by giving them the support they need to focus exclusively on football and build up the experience they need to be competitive.
Equitable redistribution to players
Although these changes in funding and accommodation are major steps forward, there is still work to be done.
Most importantly, FIFPRO is still negotiating how funds will be redistributed to players. While some federations already have agreements in place with their players dictating what percentage of winnings get redistributed back to players, many do not. This leaves many players open to not receiving anything for their participation in the tournament. For this reason, Gregorius says that the distribution of funds is, in many ways, just as critical as closing the pay gap.
FIFPRO is currently negotiating for a minimum of 30 percent of winnings to be equally redistributed back to players. This would allow for the further professionalization of the women’s game and, by FIFPRO’s estimation, allow players to be able to better support themselves financially as footballers.
Baer-Hoffmann explains that standardizing a minimum redistribution to players along with set amounts for preparation funds helps players better negotiate future bargaining agreements with their member associations. If the players know exactly what their federations are receiving, they’re in a stronger place to negotiate fairer and more balanced contracts. This will, hopefully, lead to less of a need for extreme actions like strikes or refusal by certain players to participate in future tournaments.
The importance of professionalism
Ultimately, every development is a step towards FIFPRO’s primary overarching goal which is to professionalize the women’s game.
According to Baer-Hoffmann, professionalization is one of the greatest protections against systemic abuse in the sport. He points to the impact the National Women’s Soccer League’s players association and the recent collective bargaining agreement have had on tackling systemic abuse in the American professional league. Previously in the NWSL, dependency structures were created through a lack of free agency, poor pay, and unionization. Once the players unionized and established better conditions, they were empowered to demand changes that increased their safety and well-being.
By the same token, the equalization of the World Cup tournament can be a step towards creating a safer, more supportive infrastructure for players in member associations around the world. Money and protection almost always equal safer environments because it allows greater player autonomy.
There is still much work to be done in this area, however, says Baer-Hoffmann, who calls player safety the biggest threat to the integrity of the sport at this time. FIFPRO spends a great deal of effort in supporting players through legal battles or when they bring abuse charges against individuals in their federation or even when they need to be evacuated for their own safety. Baer-Hoffmann says that if people knew just how many player safety cases could be resolved with only a bit more investment into managing investigations or supporting victims, they’d be shocked. So even a relatively small change in how funds are allocated to players can be a massive game-changer.
It just makes sense
Both Gregorius and Baer-Hoffmann say that further work needs to be done, but they’re pleased with what the players have achieved already. The goal of their negotiations is to find common ground to work from and demonstrate how progress in these areas is mutually beneficial to federations, FIFA, and individual players.
FIFA simply realized that equalization now rather than later just makes sense, says Gregorius. Looking around the world and seeing how the upheavals in France, Canada, Spain, and, formerly, the United States, are grabbing headlines around the world is enough to prompt change. As the world’s governing federation, it’s simply a matter of seeing the public response and deciding which side of the fence they wish to be on. And, so far, FIFA has decided they’d rather take what is likely the easier route of accommodating players instead of battling an infinite number of future battles.
Baer-Hoffmann also gives a nod to FIFA saying it’s true that broadcasters are lowballing FIFA in terms of rights for the Women’s World Cup. It’s a problem, he says, if the same broadcasters who bash FIFA for not sharing equal prize money don’t “reach into their own pockets” to help fund this change. But with women’s soccer growing exponentially and with a very high-profile World Cup likely taking place in North America in 2026, it’s only a matter of time before the tournament becomes another major revenue generator for FIFA.
Ultimately, both Gregorius and Baer-Hoffmann credit the women’s players themselves for their efforts to bring about such a massive change in such a short amount of time. Says Baer-Hoffmann, “this generation of players have taken the biggest leap in the professionalization of the game” which will benefit players for generations to come.
It was, therefore, important to FIFPRO to make sure these changes happened quickly enough that many of the women who advocated for it can benefit from some of the changes, says Gregorius. At some point, she says, the fight for equality has to end. It can’t go on forever. But thanks to the efforts of this current generation of players, they are on track to achieve it – at least within the confines of the World Cup – in just a few years’ time.