LYON — FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been so impressed by the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, he is ready to open the Swiss vault to help grow women’s soccer.
Infantino announced he would propose to allocate US $1 billion to the growth of the women’s game, doubling the US $500 million already approved for the next four years.
The recently re-elected FIFA president made the announcement at the tournament’s closing press conference here Friday. This year’s tournament concludes with the third-place game Saturday in Nice and the final at the Stade de Lyon on Sunday.
Infantino held court in a sometimes contentious hour-long media event, and made five proposals in regards to women’s soccer.
“This has been the best World Cup in terms of women’s football,” Infantino said. “Many people around the world have tuned in for the first time to watch a women’s football match because of the event, because of FIFA, because the World Cup is always special to have. And they saw that it was football, that there were great athletes playing football, women playing football with technical skills, with physical skills, with tactical skills and we’ve seen great things.”
The calibre of play has been impressive at the tournament as the United States and the Netherlands are set to battle for the World Cup title here in front of a global audience. England and Sweden will play for third place.
The fact and figures associated with the tournament released by FIFA on Friday were notable as well.
According to FIFA, over a billion viewers have tuned into the event so far across the numerous different platforms, with the average global live match audience expected to double that of Canada four years ago.
The second-round game between the hosts France and Brazil drew over 58 million viewers, which was an all-time record, surpassing the over 52 million viewers who tuned in to watch the final between the United States and Japan four year ago in Vancouver.
“The majority of the games have been fantastic games,” Infantino said. “There have been millions of spectators and over a billion viewers all over the world. Which other event except for the men’s World Cup can unit one billion people around the world to watch?
“Now, it’s our job to make sure we build on this and we don’t just say, ‘OK, see you in four years.’”
In order to continue the growth of the women’s game, Infantino made five proposals, which along with the $1 billion investment included the creation of the Women’s Club World Cup, a women’s World League, expanding the Women’s World Cup to 32 teams and doubling the prize money.
In order for Canada to benefit from a Women’s Club World Cup, they have to attempt to develop a women’s league first. Canada is the only highly-ranked country without its own women’s professional league.
“We can only develop national teams if we develop club football as well all over the world,” Infantino said. “We need a Club World Cup that can be played every year to expose clubs from all over the world and to make men’s clubs and also women’s clubs invest even more in women’s football in order to really shine on a world stage in a women’s Club World Cup.”
Expanding the World Cup may be difficult to do for the next event in 2023 as the bidding process has started with a 24-team format. According to Infantino, there is still time to expand it.
If the World Cup is expanded to 32 teams, the calibre of play in the developing countries would also have to improve to prevent mismatches like the United States’ 13-0 win against Thailand in its opening game of the tournament.
In four years, traditional female powers in North America and Europe will be even stronger as more money is poured into resources. If South America, Africa and Asia do not keep up an even bigger gap may be created and 13-0 may not necessarily just be an exception.
“I actually believe the gap between continents in women’s football is less than in men’s,” Infantino said. “So that’s already a good starting point. This allows us to build from something. I was impressed at this World Cup, for example, from the African countries. I didn’t expect them to be so strong and one of them passed from the group stage. I think except for this 13-0 result between the USA and Thailand, all the other games have been much more even.
“But we do need to more to make sure this gap doesn’t become bigger and in order to do more, what we have to do is channel our investments into the grassroots of the game throughout the world.”
Infantino said if he had a choice to invest money in increasing the prize money to the winning nations of major competition or into grassroots of developing nations, he would choose the latter.
“We have to create a base at the grassroots level,” he said. “When that base grows, then we can continue to grow the game at the top level.”
With the growth of women’s professional soccer, particularly in Europe, the standard of play at the World Cup is as high as it’s ever been. In order to maintain and improve on the standard, Infantino would like to see the creation of a World League where national teams can continue competing at a high level outside of the World Cup and Olympics, which only features 12 teams in the tournament.
Infantino brought up the idea of a Women’s World League two years ago at the FIFA Congress and would like to revisit the concept after this tournament.
Canada, if they qualify, would play in the Olympics next year, but will not have a competitive match for the next three years awaiting the 2023 World Cup.
“Then it was a little bit put on the side because we didn’t have an international match calendar for women’s football and we have that now,” Infantino said. “So we can put it back on the table and we can create a new event with a women’s World League which is different than the concept of (World Cup) qualifiers within the women’s game. This is something that again will boost the development of women’s football.”
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On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest