National Opinions

OPINION: FIFA boss should read the pitch on women’s pay

More than 2 billion people are expected to have tuned in. About 2 million attended matches in person. Both records. The FIFA Women’s World Cup generated more than $570 million to break even.

So how much more convincing does FIFA President Gianni Infantino need that women deserve pay parity? And, more importantly, how much more convincing do women have to do? In comments Friday, two days before the final, that instantly drew ire from players and on social media, Infantino said women “have the power to convince us men what we have to do and what we don’t have to do” to achieve pay equality. It was the trite, old message that it’s still up to women to prove themselves.

This was a golden opportunity to leverage the undeniable success of the tournament that was held in Australia and New Zealand to telegraph a message of acceptance that women are world-class competitors in sports traditionally dominated by men. Instead, once again, the ball was kicked (no pun intended) into the women’s end. More of women “have the power to change.” “Just keep pushing, keep the momentum going, keep dreaming,” Infantino said. Nothing about it’s time for men’s attitudes to change. Because if there ever was a time to do that, this was it.

The issue goes beyond sports. To be fair, Infantino has been calling for greater financial commitment to the women’s game. Prize money for this women’s World Cup exceeded $150 million, up from $30 million in 2019 - yet still far short of the $440 million pot distributed at the men’s World Cup last year in Qatar. FIFA earned $7.5 billion in revenue from the Qatar event, which should be read as an indication of the enormous growth potential for the women’s game.

But even if the latest comments were not intended in the spirit they were taken, they still offer a glimpse into the attitudes men in positions of authority hold toward truly recognizing women as equal. Not to mention the sexism that still exists as this kiss that briefly overshadowed Spain’s defeat of England to win the World Cup on Sunday reminded us.

Women keep being told that they must lean in. They have been doing just that for the past decade. And yet progress toward parity is advancing at a snail’s pace. The World Economic Forum estimated that it will take 131 years to achieve political, social and economic parity, according to its 2023 Global Gender Gap Report. It noted the overall rate of change had slowed down following the pandemic. “Even reverting back to the time horizon of 100 years to parity projected in the 2020,” it said, “would require a significant acceleration of progress.”

Women are powerhouses. This year, they have been rocking the entertainment and sports world globally on an unprecedented scale. Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour is on track to gross over $1 billion. The singer and songwriter’s economic impact is so great that she earned a mention in the Federal Reserve’s beige book of economic conditions. The “Barbie” movie smashed $1 billion in global box-office sales, making director Greta Gerwig the first female sole director to achieve that feat, and Margot Robbie, the star of the movie who also signed on as a producer, a formidable force in Hollywood.


The World Cup has shown that women can draw a crowd, that their athletic prowess more than matches that of men, as in this very clever French advertisement that went viral. The record 32 teams that competed have inspired young girls - and boys - and showed them what they can be, that they can be. That they can dream big. It has given them world-class role models.

Its success went beyond sports or soccer fans. In Australia, the national team, the Matildas, brought a country together, and prompted the government to give a A$200 million ($128 million) funding boost to ride the momentum.

Companies can also learn from the event. Team skills displayed during the tournament are invaluable as women try to navigate the corporate landscape. In a 2020 report, EY found that 94% of women in the C-suite played sports. “With their problem-solving skills and team-building experiences … (they) are uniquely positioned to lead in the corporate world,” the report said.

Money talks in sports, and probably nowhere more so than in soccer, where superstar players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo get paid mind-blowing amounts. Like in the corporate world, women’s football is far from achieving anywhere near that sort of parity. The most successful women’s football tournament in the world should have been the forum to double down on support to get there, not suggest that women still need to persuade those who make decisions. In a sport where brand advertising and merchandise sales are of utmost importance, it’s also worth remembering the spending power of women should not be underestimated.

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Amanda Staveley, the co-owner of Newcastle United FC, told Bloomberg News that there was a significant lack of commercial revenue despite all the success women are having in the sport. But she added: “We, as owners, need to keep putting our women at the heart of our plan and eventually it will catch up.”

The head of FIFA had a captive global audience to enforce that commitment once the euphoria dies down, and declare that he is convinced. It could’ve been a powerful message resonating beyond sports. It’s a pity that with the world watching, he didn’t lean in himself.

Andreea Papuc is a Bloomberg Opinion editor.

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