FIFA not responsible for pay to WWC players

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on the eve of the Women’s World Cup that although FIFA has for the first time started earmarking prize money payments to be paid to players, FIFA will still distribute money to federations rather than oversee direct payments to players.

The world governing body of soccer announced in June that every player competing in the tournament would be paid at least $30,000 by FIFA, and “we are guaranteeing prize money for players.” But Infantino said Wednesday that ensuring such payments go directly to players isn’t feasible. Rather, prize money will still be paid to federations, but now FIFA is asking a portion of that money to go to players.

“We have issued recommendations, but we are an association of associations,” Infantino said. “So whatever payments we do will be through the associations, and then the associations will make the relevant payments to their own players.

“But we are in touch with all the associations, and there are all different situations in different parts of the world — taxation, residence and so on — which require special agreements that are agreements for some associations with the players from before, of course.

“So, I think we have been taking some groundbreaking decisions, and it’s far from the end of the story.”

Some players have clashed with their federations over money promised to women players not making it to teams.

Just last month, the South African women’s team accused their federation of withholding Women’s World Cup bonus payments. The Jamaica women’s team launched a fundraising campaign to help them fund preparations for the World Cup amid allegations that federation was not providing agreed upon compensation. Nigeria players protested in 2019 over unpaid World Cup bonuses, and again have clashed with the federation ahead of this World Cup over alleged withheld payments.

Sources with knowledge of FIFA’s plans for these payments told ESPN that under this new system, it is expected players will have recourse if prize money is not distributed as FIFA requests.

The $30,000 minimum payments for Women’s World Cup players — as long as their federations dole them out as instructed by FIFA — could be life-changing for some players. FIFA earlier this year reported that the global average salary for female soccer players was just $14,000.

Asked how FIFA would audit payments for the Women’s World Cup and outside of major tournaments to ensure it’s going where earmarked, Infantino said FIFA would keep in touch with associations.

“More than auditing or monitoring, it’s engaging,” he said. “We engage with the associations around the world because, I joke sometimes that we cannot artificially print the money. If we could, that would be nice, but at the end we can distribute, we can pay what we generate. So it’s impossible to ask them to do more if they generate less, right?”

FIFPRO, the global players’ union, had previously put FIFA under pressure to provide a “global guarantee” that 30% of the prize money would go to players after 150 players — including much of the U.S. women’s national team — signed a letter demanding equitable World Cup conditions.

Infantino was quick to point out that prize money from this Women’s World Cup has increased to $110 million to be paid to the players in the 32 teams compared to $30 million in 2019 for 24 teams.

The prize money for this World Cup, however, pales in comparison to the $440 million the men were offered for the World Cup last year in Qatar. Asked about that disparity on Wednesday, Infantino deflected, saying it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss until after the tournament was over.

“Well, you know, today is the eve of the opening game of the Women’s World Cup, and for me it’s a moment to focus on the positive, focus on the happiness, focus on the joy,” Infantino said. “… Until the 20th of August you will hear from me only positive things about everything and everyone.

“If somebody’s still not happy about something, well, I’m so sorry. I am happy with everything and I love everyone. As of the 21st of August, we focus on some other issues around the world and all the problems that are coming up.”

The Women’s World Cup kicks off in New Zealand and Australia on Thursday and runs until the final slated for Aug. 20.

Although Infantino has said that equal prize money between the men’s and women’s tournaments by 2027 is FIFA’s goal, he has been not committal, calling it an “ambition” and putting the onus on broadcasters to step up their bids for the rights to air the Women’s World Cup.

In previous cycles, FIFA bundled the sale of media rights and sponsorships for the men’s World Cup along with the women’s tournament, essentially giving the rights to the Women’s World Cup for free to those who bid on the men’s World Cup.

But for the first time in this tournament, FIFA is selling commercial rights for the women’s tournament separately — and Infantino said on Wednesday that this edition of the Women’s World Cup will break even.

Earlier this year, FIFA threatened a blackout in some European countries, with Infantino declaring the bids from broadcasters in the U.K., Spain, Italy, Germany and France unacceptable. Deals were eventually reached, but Infantino said Wednesday the agreements were less about an increase in money offered but rather long-term promotion of the women’s game.

“The financial element was not the most important — we didn’t make 10 times more than what was offered or 100 times more than what was offered before,” he said. “But we added this promotion element, and this is the way, for me, forward to promote the women’s game. It’s the most effective way to grow women’s football.”

Infantino added that with the now-separate commercial deals in place, the Women’s World Cup is self-sustainable, having generated $500 million — enough to fund the tournament.

“What we did was to create for the first time in the history of FIFA a separate commercial program for the Women’s World Cup, which brought us some interesting figures — generating half a billion U.S. dollars,” he said. “We have costs as well, more or less at this level. But this is important because we are breaking even for such a big event with a significant increase in the prize money and in all the investments that we are doing.”

Infantino also said that an announcement will be made soon regarding the addition of a club world cup for women. The men’s Club World Cup was launched by FIFA in 2000.

“On a FIFA women’s club world or club world championship — we have to decide on the right name for it — while national team football is of course very important and it makes our heart beat, club football is the day-to-day place where players earn their salary,” Infantino said, adding that the women’s club game was growing in some parts of the world more than others. “We are moving in this new direction and soon there will be some announcement about the women’s club world cup.”

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