KATHRYN BATTE: Bold talk over equal pay is little more than a PR stunt

KATHRYN BATTE: Bold talk over equal World Cup pay is little more than a PR stunt by Gianni Infantino… the women’s game desperately needs investment to improve but equality in four years seems IMPOSSIBLE

  • The Women’s World Cup will get a huge increase in prize money this year
  • It’s vital there is continued investment in the women’s game if quality is to rise
  • Yet, this was no more than a wish from Gianni Infantino, rather than a promise

Today, Gianni Infantino feels generous. 

On the day he was re-elected FIFA president unopposed, the 52-year-old announced the governing body’s desire for the women’s World Cup prize money to match the men’s by 2027. Importantly, this is a wish – not a promise.

The news on Thursday that the total prize money for this year’s tournament will be trebled to £125million – for the men’s World Cup in Qatar it was £365m – was welcome and needed.

This is still a growing sport. If you don’t increase prize money you will never improve the quality of the product FIFA are desperate to market. And growing interest has fuelled FIFA’s ability to increase the prize pots.

‘Women deserve much, much more, and we are here to fight with them and for them. We need to fight together to achieve that,’ Infantino said.

 Gianni Infantino claimed he wants equal pay between men and women at FIFA World Cups 

USA won the last Women’s World Cup in 2019 and have been campaigning for equal pay

But the idea of equal prize money in four years’ time is hugely ambitious and smacks of a marketing ploy from a president who knows he needs a PR win.

How can anybody trust a word Infantino says? This is a man who was happy for Saudi Arabia’s tourism body to sponsor this summer’s competition, a move set to be abandoned following criticism from players because of the country’s appalling record on women’s rights.

Did he and FIFA have the best interests of the women’s game at heart when they effectively endorsed that regime with that decision?

It is also telling that Infantino used the same speech to lambast broadcasters for not making reasonable financial offers to show matches at this year’s competition.

‘FIFA are receiving between 10 and 100 times less from public broadcasters for the women’s World Cup than the men’s World Cup. Do you think that is normal?’ Infantino said.

‘At the same time, these public broadcasters, who are paid by taxpayers’ money, criticise FIFA… for not guaranteeing equal pay to men and women.

‘You pay us 100 times less, but your viewing figures are very similar, maybe 20 to 25 per cent less – not 100 per cent less. Well, offer us 20 per cent less or 50 per cent less, but not 100 per cent less. How can we do it, otherwise?’

This is not about salaries paid by national FAs. The English FA pay the same to the men and the women (roughly £2,000 per game) and have done for three years.

But prize money is dictated by market forces. Infantino has a point in that the viewing figures for women’s tournaments globally are increasing massively and there is clearly a demand to watch games. But there has to be realism. 

England women’s Euro 2022 final win against Germany was watched by 17.4million people on the BBC. The men’s Euros final a year earlier was watched by 30.9million.

The women’s game needs investment but Infantino’s remarks felt like a cheap and easy PR win

So market forces suggest broadcasters will not bring in as much in advertising from the women’s game and therefore will not offer as much to FIFA to show women’s matches.

Of course, more investment increases the quality, which improves the product, which increases the revenue – there’s an element of chicken and egg.

But what about FIFA? They have money aplenty to funnel into the prize pots if they wanted. They don’t need to rely solely on broadcasters or sponsors.

As for this summer’s World Cup, it is understandable to expect British broadcasters to offer less money for a tournament that will take place on the other side of the world in Australia and New Zealand, when some matches will kick off in the early hours of the morning here.

It is hard not to see Infantino’s grand gesture as a way to deflect attention away from FIFA and on to broadcasters. He offered no plan or explanation as to how they will go about achieving his goal. It felt like lip service.

This speech also came after it was made public that players from England, and 24 other national women’s football teams, signed a letter to FIFA and Infantino in October calling for equal conditions and prize money at the World Cup this summer.

 To gain total parity with the men’s World Cup financially feels impossible in next four years

So it was timely, it makes it look like FIFA are listening. But the reality is they continue to be tone deaf.

The women’s game needs investment to continue to grow. That is not up for debate. But it does not, as it has tried to do many times before, need to run before it can walk.

The prize money for this summer’s World Cup had to increase significantly. Equality is the end goal, but achieving that in four years feels impossible.

As much as Infantino talks the talk, when it comes down to it, how hard will FIFA try to make that vision a reality?

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