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FIFA proposes Women’s World Cup expansion to 32 teams, increased investment

LYON, France — FIFA president Gianni Infantino nearly ran out of superlatives to describe the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

“This WWC in France has been phenomenal, has been incredible, has been emotional, has been passionate, has been fantastic, has been great, has been the  best women’s World Cup ever,” Infantino said Friday to kick off his closing news conference of the tournament. “Something extraordinary happened here.”

Infantino went on to propose what many players have long advocated for: increased investment in the women’s game.

Infantino’s plan to continue the development of women’s soccer included increasing the number of teams for the next World Cup from 24 to 32 and doubling the World Cup pool of prize money from $30 million to $60 million.

He also wants to launch a club World Cup “as soon as possible,” potentially next year, and a women’s world league for national teams that would operate much like the UEFA Nations League.

His final proposal was to double the amount of spending on women’s soccer over the next four years from $500 million — a figure he gave during the FIFA Congress at the beginning of the World Cup — to $1 billion. 

“The reserves FIFA has are at unprecedented high levels. We have 2.7 billion reserves. We don’t need all this money in the Swiss banks. The Swiss banks have enough money. We can use some of it, and I will ask that some of it be reallocated for the development of women’s football,” Infantino said. 

FIFA’s wealth juxtaposed with its difference in monetary investment between the men’s and women’s games has been a source of criticism, especially during this 2019 World Cup, which has turned a spotlight on gender-based discrimination and abusive behavior toward women in the sport. Infantino also has been called out directly for a perceived lack of action or understanding on many of these issues.

The United States women’s national team is leading the fight for equality, with a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer that has been discussed at length throughout the tournament.

Striker Ada Hegerberg, considered by many the best player in the world, refused to represent Norway in the World Cup because of what she said was unequal conditions for the men’s and women’s national teams.

And a few days into the tournament, FIFA announced a lifetime ban from the sport for Keramuddin Karim, former president of the Afghan Football Federation, after an investigation into physical and sexual abuse of women players.

“I think we have to say that the Women’s World Cup is an extraordinary platform to promote women’s equality, to promote all sorts of topics that can be discussed in different type of forums,” Infantino said when asked specifically about the issues raised by the USWNT during the tournament. “To talk about politics, though, may be going a little too far. The political sphere and then the sports arena should be separate. We should keep things in that way, separate.”

Infantino emphasized that all the growth initiatives he suggested will have to be voted on and implemented by the council and member associations. In particular, increasing the number of World Cup teams will require problem solving since countries have already started the bidding process for the 2023 World Cup based on 24 teams. He said FIFA will discuss the change with urgency and then restart the bidding process if it decides to increase the number of teams for the next tournament.

“I hope that the council and the associations will follow me,” Infantino said. “And if they don’t follow me, well I will just continue to insist until we get these proposals through.

“There will be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ the women’s World Cup 2019, in terms of women’s football.”

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