The Fifa Women’s World Cup has begun. After the success of the Lionesses at the Euros, what effect could this tournament have on women’s football in the UK?
The ninth Fifa Women’s World Cup kicked off in Auckland this morning with hosts New Zealand taking to the field against Norway followed by the other hosts, Australia, who faced the Republic of Ireland.
The women’s game has grown steadily in popularity and power since the first Women’s World Cup, but the sport’s golden goose – pay equality – remains elusive for most national teams, including England’s Lionesses.
When they beat historic rivals Germany to win the 2022 European Championship they captured the hearts and minds of a nation.
In the year that followed, the sport was turbocharged throughout the UK
In 2022, 20 million Britons identified as a fan of women’s football – 8.7 million more people than the year before. In the Women’s Super League (WSL) – the top tier of women’s football – fan attendance last season surpassed half a million for the first time.
The women’s game is now seen as something that can generate serious money. England and Arsenal player Alessia Russo is on track to become the first WSL player to make over £1 million in a season.
Player power is increasing as well. When Fifa announced plans to make Visit Saudi – Saudi Arabia’s tourism agency – a major sponsor of this year’s World Cup, players threatened to boycott the tournament. Fifa reversed its decision.
Many players believe full pay equality will only be achieved when Fifa starts offering equal prize money for the men’s and women’s games. At the most recent Fifa Congress in March, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said the aim was to still achieve that equality by the next Women’s World Cup, held in 2027.
In the meantime national teams have been looking to their own governing bodies to pick up the slack. England’s Women’s team has been in discussion with the Football Association to pay players performance related bonuses in addition to the individual prize money they’d earn from Fifa.
Those discussions have been paused until after the World Cup, but in a statement the Lionesses said they were disappointed a resolution hadn’t been found. If they do well at the tournament it will give a further boost to their popularity and likely help their case, perhaps smoothing the path to equal pay.
Injuries to captain Leah Williamson and star forward – Beth Mead make a win less likely, but they are entering the tournament ranked fourth in the world.
Today’s episode was written by Sara Weissel and mixed by Imy Harper.