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Women’s World Cup is over but the fight for equality is not

The 2023 World Cup organized by New Zeland and Austalia is over, Spain won but the biggest winner is FIFA making $570 million in revenue. Let’s recap and comment on the good, the bad and the ugly…

Since day one of the Women’s World Cup, records have been smashed.

For the first game of New Zeland’s team, 42,137 people came to watch the game: it was the biggest crowd to watch a football match in New Zealand (men's or women's). For Australia’s match against Denmark, 6.54 million people watched on the free-to-air Seven Network, more than the country's biggest showpieces in 2022: the National Rugby League and Australian Football League grand finales.

On top of these impressive numbers, the rest of the world followed even if many games were outside traditional prime-time slots. For example, despite a 5:00 a.m. start in the Eastern time zone of the United States, 2.52 million American viewers followed their team’s game against Sweden on Fox (peaking at 4.07 million). And Brazil's opening match against Panama delivered a combined audience of 13.9 million people on TV Globo and SporTV.

What these numbers show is that people were not only interested in women’s soccer, they were also committed to show their support.

These numbers were also used by Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president, to hit back at critics at the FIFA Women's Football Convention, saying that expanding the tournament to 32 teams has turned out to be a success and that "FIFA was right" to do so. He also encouraged women to keep fighting for changes. "I say to all the women – and you know I have four daughters, so I have a few at home – that you have the power to change" he said.

You would think that women’s soccer finally got its recognition, right? Wrong!

In his patronizing speech, Infantino also told women to "pick the right battles" alluding to players’ demand for equal pay.

"Pick the right fights. You have the power to change. You have the power to convince us men what we have to do and what we don't have to do. Just do it. With men, with FIFA, you'll find open doors. Just push the doors" he declared.

Before the beginning of the World Cup, the global players union FIFPRO lobbied for a guarantee that some of the funds would go directly to the players. While the union won, the record $110 million for this World Cup is well short of the $440 million on offer to teams at last year's men's event in Qatar.

And this is despite the fact that the event generated over $570 million revenue and as Gianni Infantino declared: "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."

For FIFA’s president, equal pay won’t solve anything "because it's one month every four years and it's a few players out of the thousands and thousands of players".

After his speech, he received backlash from various players who have been fighting for their rights, including from the former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg who wrote ironically on X (former Twitter): "Working on a little presentation to convince men. Who's in?"

Players from several countries have been in dispute with their federations in the build-up to the World Cup over pay, the treatment and professionalism afforded to the women's national teams. But there is still a long way to go.

For example, while Luis Rubiales, the Spanish soccer federation president, distributed gold medals among the team following their 1-0 victory over England, he kissed one of the players, Jenni Hermoso, on the lips. She was heard telling teammates afterward in the locker room she "didn’t like it" in a video posted on Instagram and YouTube by El Mundo newspaper and other media outlets.

Although Rubiales has been criticized by government ministers and asked to give an explanation and apologize, this gesture never happened in a men’s soccer event.

In terms of equality, women in soccer and other sports (and other areas of life) still have a lot of battles to fight. But this World Cup showed that women are slowly taking up more space and that certain attitudes are not tolerated anymore.

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