With the Women’s World Cup in full swing, it’s clear that for all the fun the tournament has been, it could be even bigger and better.
FIFA, the world’s governing body of soccer, hasn’t proven to be all that concerned with the women’s game and proactively looking at ways to help it, so here are some ideas.
Increase the prize money
The prize money for the Women’s World Cup is just $30 million compared to the $400 million the men’s World Cup gets. That translates to less than 1/10th of the prize money that is available to the men, even though the women get well more than 1/10th of the TV ratings and attendance.
What FIFA should do – and can afford to do – is increase the prize money to a level where federations would start to take the tournament seriously. FIFA, which is a non-profit organization, has around $3 billion in its reserves and could easily incentivize federations to take their women’s programs more seriously.
This is one of the simplest things FIFA could do that would have an immediate impact.
Expand the tournament to 32 teams
In 2015, the Women’s World Cup expanded to 24 teams and now, it’s ready to expand again.
There’s the practical consideration that 32 teams is the neatest number for a large-scale tournament, allowing the top two teams of eight groups of four to advance without the need for convoluted tiebreakers. But there are even better reasons to expand.
The Women’s World Cup has often been dominated by the same set of teams, and by expanding, more federations will see their women's team as having a chance to compete, and feel incentivized to qualify.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the Netherlands qualified for their first Women’s World Cup four years ago, and then went on to win its first European Championship two years later. Argentina got crushed at the 2007 World Cup but now it has gotten some good results and are still in play, albeit by a thread, to advance.
Expanding the tournament may lead to growing pains, like the 13-0 walloping of Thailand at the hands of the U.S., but it’s necessary to grow the game.
Don’t debut changes without testing them first (like VAR)
Video-assisted refereeing has been one of the biggest talking points of this Women’s World Cup – and not in a good way.
The biggest controversies have centered around the strict enforcement of expecting the goalkeepers to keep their feet on the line. Technically, the rule has always been that goalkeepers can’t leave their line until the ball is kicked, but it has never been enforced like it has in this World Cup.
The implementation of VAR has split opinion, but the problem with it in this Women’s World Cup is that it’s the first time any of these players are competing with VAR. They are having to figure out mid-tournament how its enforcement will affect the games and how they should minimize its impact. Contrast that to the men’s World Cup, with many men’s leagues around the world having already implemented VAR, not to mention the fact the technology was used during the Confederations Cup as a precursor to its use in the World Cup.
FIFA set the date for the Women’s World Cup years in advance and could’ve given VAR a good ramp-up to the tournament. Instead, they waited until three months before the tournament to officially approve its use.
These bizarre VAR rulings confuse players, alienate new fans and just aren’t fun.
Start a nations league for women
Nations leagues are all the rage on the mens’ side. In the past couple years, European governing body UEFA added one, and so has the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation, CONCACAF.
The idea is that a league of nations would ensure more meaningful games for teams outside of just World Cups and qualifiers, eliminating the need to organize friendly matches.
On the women’s side, this would be a huge boost since some women’s teams don't play any friendlies because their federations won’t spend the resources on games that don’t matter. A nations league would dramatically increase the number of games being played by women’s teams.
“There are some teams here that have only played a handful of games since the last World Cup or only in the qualifiers,” Megan Rapinoe said after the U.S. pummeled Thailand 13-0. “It’s embarrassing, not only for the federations but for FIFA.”
By the time the teams competing in a nations league arrive to a Women’s World Cup, they will be more seasoned and higher quality.
Bring in qualified advocates for women’s soccer
There are qualified women and men who can advocate for women’s soccer, but FIFA hasn’t done enough to find and empower those people.
FIFA took a good first step by guaranteeing in 2016 that some seats on its council would go to women. But that clearly wasn’t enough as Moya Dodd, one of the fiercest advocates of women’s soccer, lost her election to a woman who didn’t even know who won the last Women’s World Cup. The men who vote in the elections apparently would rather have a more compliant woman who would stick to the status quo, unlike Dodd.
FIFA and its confederations could ensure that advocates with the experience to build the infrastructure around women’s soccer behind the scenes are put in positions of power. But for now it looks like there are missed opportunities. Karina LeBlanc, the former Canadian goalkeeper who holds the important-sounding position Head of Women’s Football for CONCACAF, is part of Fox Sports’ broadcast team doing a daily internet show, which raises questions about what her job for CONCACAF entails.
Could CONCACAF be doing more? Could FIFA be doing more? Unquestionably.
While it’s obvious FIFA should steer more money to women’s soccer, FIFA needs the people in place to guide how that money is spent.
Get rid of draconian rights agreements and help fans discover the Women’s World Cup
This one might seem a bit silly, but how many times have you been on social media and tuned into a live sporting event because you saw a bunch of GIFs of an exciting moment?
FIFA doesn’t allow fans to share GIFs, video clips or anything that is not by rights-holders in geo-blocked posts. Fans who post GIFs of Alex Morgan’s rocket goal, Christiane Endler’s super saves or the VAR craziness quickly get slapped with copyright claims and risk their accounts being suspended altogether.
The concern from FIFA’s end seems to be about preserving the very high dollar value of the broadcast rights for their tournaments. But banning 5-second GIFs helps no one, and did we mention that FIFA has $3 billion in reserves? They can probably afford the GIFs, and a viral moment during the tournament can bring in new fans.
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