FIFA plots 'path to equal pay' at Women's World Cup, but 2023 prize money still 25% of men's pot

KIGALI, RWANDA - MARCH 16: Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA speaks to the media during a FIFA Congress Press Conference on March 16, 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo by Tom Dulat - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks to the media during a FIFA Congress news conference on March 16, 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo by Tom Dulat via Getty Images)

Plotting a long overdue "path" toward equality, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced Thursday that the global soccer governing body's "ambition" and "objective" is to have equal prize money on offer at the 2026 and 2027 men's and women's World Cups.

Infantino also said that, in the more immediate term, players and staff at the 2023 Women's World Cup would have the "same conditions" and services as the men had in 2022. And FIFA's ruling Council approved an uptick in 2023 World Cup prize money, well beyond the $60 million that Infantino had previously promised.

The new $110 million pot, though, is still just 25% of the $440 million paid out to the 32 national soccer federations who participated at the 2022 men's World Cup, despite the two tournaments welcoming the same number of teams.

The $31 million in preparation money and $11 million in club benefits that FIFA is promising in association with the 2023 Women's World Cup are also sizable jumps from previous years — but still pale in comparison to the $70 million in prep costs and $310 million in club benefits tied to the 2022 men's tournament. (Those numbers were confirmed by a FIFA spokesman on Thursday.)

The prize money gap, which has been a subject of criticism from women's soccer players and advocates, has for decades incentivized every soccer federation worldwide to invest an outsize proportion of resources in men's national team success.

The money goes directly to those federations. Some players' unions have bargained with their federations for a share of it, but it has never explicitly been player compensation; it has always been primarily a reward for investment, and thus an incentive for unequal investment. Less than a decade ago, federations earned a share of $358 million if their men's team qualified for the 2014 World Cup, and a share of just $15 million if their women's team qualified for the 2015 World Cup. A decade before that, prior to 2007, there was no financial reward for Women's World Cup success at all.

FIFA, a non-profit, has never provided an on-record rationale for the disparity. Some have justified it by pointing to the commercial pull of the men's tournament. But, until recently, FIFA sold broadcast and sponsorship rights to the men's and women's World Cups as a bundle; it could never actually point to a disparity in revenue. And besides, critics argued, FIFA's own lack of investment in the women's game, coupled with its unwillingness to incentivize investment at the national level, was a primary driver of the Women's World Cup's underperformance in the viewership and commercial realms.

But now the tide is turning.

Players and some federations, led by U.S. women's national team stars last decade, upped public pressure on FIFA to correct the inequities. Last October, FIFPRO, an umbrella organization representing men's and women's players worldwide, wrote to FIFA on behalf of 150 women's players from 25 different countries to call for "an equal framework of regulations and conditions for the Men’s and Women’s FIFA World Cups, including equal prize money."

They argued in the letter, which was obtained by Yahoo Sports, that prize money "heavily impacts how countries will disproportionately prioritize their efforts to support the men’s national team over the women’s national team. It also perpetuates the attitude of women’s football being a 'cost' rather than a contributor to football in some parts of the world. This is because the same effort and achievement do not yield the same reward. We want our performance to matter, to be significant not only for us but for the entire football family in our countries and around the world."

FIFA, it seems, has listened — to the players, and to a growing chorus across the globe, especially in Europe and North America.

Infantino concluded FIFA's annual Congress on Thursday in Rwanda by laying out what he described as a three-step "journey" toward equal pay and more. Step 1 had already been taken, or at least promised: FIFA will, for the first time in 2023, offer women's teams dedicated base camps and other amenities, travel accommodations and facilities on par with those at men's World Cups. (Or so it says.)

Step 2 is the significant increase in prize money. In announcing it, Infantino also specified that the $110 million — the biggest chunk of which, likely around $10 million, goes to the champion, with the smallest chunks going to the 16 teams eliminated at the group stage — should be allocated in part to federations for investment in youth soccer, and in part directly to players.

This was a key point in the FIFPRO letter. "Many players have no agreement with their [federations] to ensure they receive fair and equitable treatment, including a guaranteed World Cup compensation, for example, as a portion of World Cup prize money," it stated. The players asked for "a global guarantee of at least 30% of prize money." Infantino said discussions around the exact scheme are ongoing.

"Now comes Step 3, the most difficult, the most complicated step, the step that will take a longer time," Infantino said in conclusion. Step 3 is overcoming the decades of neglect that have left the women's game trailing the men's game commercially.

To kickstart this catch-up, FIFA last year devised a new marketing concept dedicated to women's soccer, and began to sell Women's World Cup sponsorship and broadcast rights separately. Its goal, Infantino said, is "to be able to have equality in payments for the 2026 men's and 27 women's World Cups."

Of course, FIFA could equalize payments right now if it wanted to — there is no direct connection between revenue and prize money — but Infantino argued that he needs companies and broadcasters to get on board as well.

He chastised media companies, and specifically "public broadcasters in big countries," for criticizing FIFA's inequities all while offering far less money in negotiations for women's World Cup rights than they currently pay for men's World Cup rates.

"We need all to be on the same side," Infantino said. "FIFA will do its part. We've started already. [We need] others to do the same."

"FIFA is stepping up with actions, not just with words," he added. And while there was no binding promise, nothing firm about his commitment to equal pay in 2026 and 2027, many felt it was genuine.

"Significant progress has been made in the conditions, prize money, and prize money redistribution for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup," FIFPRO said in a statement hours later. It acknowledged that details still must be confirmed, but stated: "The progress announced today demonstrates the intent of the players and FIFA to work proactively towards greater equity and equality for the industry."