Infantino praises 32-team WWC: ‘FIFA was right’

SYDNEY — FIFA president Gianni Infantino hit back at critics and took a victory lap at the FIFA Women’s Football Convention Friday, saying that expanding the Women’s World Cup has turned out to be a success and “FIFA was right” to do so.

The tournament had 24 teams competing in its previous edition in 2019 in France, but this edition in Australia and New Zealand expanded to 32 teams. Two teams remain, England and Spain, who will play in the final Sunday.

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“We decided to increase the number of participating teams in the World Cup from 24 in France to 32 now,” Infantino said in his opening remarks of the convention. “I remember when we decided to do that, of course, the usual critics — which are less and less by the way, but there are still a few — they were saying it’s not going to work. ‘The level is too different. You will have 15-0 scores. It will be bad for women’s football. It will be bad for the image of women’s football.’ I’m sorry, but FIFA was right. As it happens quite often in the last years, FIFA was right once more.

“From the 134 countries that entered the qualification for the 2015 Women’s World Cup before I became FIFA president, we have now 188 countries in the FIFA ranking because everyone believes now there is a chance to shine on the global stage.”

In this tournament, eight teams made World Cup debuts, with first-timer Morocco reaching the knockout stage before being eliminated by France in the round of 16.

An unprecedented number of upsets also featured at this tournament with No. 2 FIFA world-ranked Germany, No. 7-ranked Canada and No. 8-ranked Brazil all getting knocked out in the group stage by lower-ranked teams.

This edition of the Women’s World Cup also marks the first time FIFA separately sold broadcast and sponsorship rights to the tournament instead of bundling those deals as part of the men’s World Cup. The result, Infantino said, was revenues of more than $570 million.

“This World Cup generated over $570 million in revenue, and so we broke even,” he said. “We didn’t lose any money and we generated the second-highest income of any sport besides, of course, the men’s World Cup, at the global stage. There are not many competitions, even in men’s football, that generate more than half a billion dollars.”

The selection of Australia and New Zealand as host countries drew some criticism before the tournament because the time zones would be unfavorable to audiences in Europe and North America, two of the largest viewership markets for the World Cup. Infantino hit back at those critics as well, noting that the tournament had set new TV records around the world.

In the United States, broadcaster FOX set a record for the group stage of a Women’s World Cup. Two of the four U.S. women’s national team matches during the tournament began in the overnight or early morning hours but averaged 3.80 million viewers on FOX, up 2% from the USA’s first four matches in 2019.

In Australia, 9 in 10 households watching TV during the Matildas’ semifinal vs. England on Wednesday were tuned into the game.

“We did it in spite of the critics who wouldn’t believe in countries, which are not ‘football countries,'” Infantino said. “Why are you playing in winter away from normal — ‘normal’ was the word I heard — time zones? Imagine, as if you have an abnormal time zone here. [They said] it wouldn’t work. Well, it did work.”

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