FIFA president Gianni Infantino says women footballers are justified for protesting cash inequalities

France pocketed $38 million for winning the men’s World Cup in July, while the women’s champion in next year's Women's World Cup is expected to earn only $4 million.

"Maybe one day women’s football will generate more than men’s football," said FIFA president Gianni Infantino.   -  AFP

FIFA President Gianni Infantino understands why female footballers are unhappy about the lack of gender equality in FIFA World Cup prize money but said Thursday that doubling the cash for finalists to USD 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 more vastly more cash set aside for the men’s showpiece.

“Critical comments are perfectly justified because ... the unions and the players they defend their own interests which is a fair point,” Infantino said.

“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 now generates most of FIFA’s billion income and that is reflected in the prize money.

France banked USD 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 only USD 4 million, although that it double collected by the Americans in 2015.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the ahead of the council meeting.

On top of the USD 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 USD 11.5 million with the 24 teams for tournament preparations, including training camps, and USD 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 rose only 12 percent to USD 400 million. FIFA gave teams USD 48 million in preparation costs and also shared USD 209 million with clubs who send players to the tournament — vastly larger sums than allocated to women’s soccer.

“It’s very complex to find that I know 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 USD 2.4 million for the group stage at the World Cup in Russia, but women will only split USD 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.

“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,” she added. 

Bareman has recently launched a strategy with one intention to generate more cash for women’s soccer. “The vast majority of women’s football players across the world are still amateur,” Bareman said. “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.”