World Cup prize money continues to be a sticking point for equality in soccer, despite the historic equal pay agreement between US Soccer and its men’s and women’s teams.
Earlier this year, the US national teams decided to share prize money, meaning the spoils of playing in the sport’s most prestigious tournaments will be divided equally between players from both teams – after the federation took a cut at the top.
It was a historic agreement, hailed as a milestone for equality even beyond sport. But other nations have not followed suit.
At the heart of the problem is the huge disparity in prize money between men’s and women’s tournaments – and how it is ultimately passed on by federations to their players.
FIFA has earmarked $440 million in prize money for this year’s Men’s World Cup. The winner in Qatar will take home $42 million.
The Americans won $4 million out of a $30 million pot at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. FIFA President Gianni Infantino offered to double the prize money for the 2023 event, but the field went from 24 to 32 teams.
That could change. FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura recently suggested that the final prize total for women could be higher.
“Today, the Men’s World Cup is the fundraiser for all FIFA competitions, including the Women’s World Cup. But we have seen new trends in terms of income,” she said at an event in Sydney.
Some countries – including Australia, Ireland, Brazil, Norway and others – have made significant progress towards equal match and appearance fees, but an equal distribution of pooled prize money. World Cup was not part of these agreements.
Brazil have announced equal pay for their men’s and women’s teams in 2020, but the agreement pays women a “proportionally equal” amount – or the same percentage – of the World Cup prize money.
In July, the Spanish federation also agreed to give its female players an equal percentage bonus to that of the men, as well as income from sponsorships, image rights and improved working conditions. He did not reveal details.
Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University, said there is a three-pronged approach to equal pay: public sentiment must be supportive, women must be unified in their demands and the players need allies, as in the case of the American men’s team.
That could be a tough question in countries like France and Germany, two World Cup-winning nations, as the men’s team would forgo a lucrative salary. France, which took home $38 million for winning the 2018 World Cup in Russia, distributed $11 million among the 23-man squad.
In contrast, American women have fared better than men, winning the last two World Cups. The American men failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
“If (American) women continue to do better than men, it doesn’t really hurt men. Even though men earn more, women can actually contribute as much if they continue,” Neirotti said. “But it’s not always the same economy in other countries – those other countries where the men go further in the tournament and thus generate a bigger prize pool. So obviously the economics of coupling with women would probably be more detrimental to men than to women.”
Players like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn campaigned tirelessly for pay equity, sparking chants of ‘equal pay’ at the World Cup final three years ago in France and winning support public. Then the women worked with the men’s syndicate to forge a deal, guaranteeing both parties a bigger share of the overall prize after the federation got involved.
US Soccer will take 10% of each team’s allocated money and then split the rest between players on both teams’ World Cup rosters.
For the 2026 and 2027 tournaments, the USSF will take 20% and share the rest equally.
Australia, which co-hosts the 2023 Women’s World Cup, has instead asked FIFA to equalize the prize pools. The Socceroos, as they are known, will receive a share of the prize money if the team advances to the knockout stages. But the federation also plans to windfall a second-tier women’s league and a national women’s competition.
Canada’s men, currently in contentious contract talks with the federation, have demanded 40 per cent of the World Cup prize money, a travel package for friends and family and an “equitable structure with our national women’s team which shares the same player match fees, percentage of prize money won at our respective FIFA World Cups and the development of a national women’s league.
The Canadian women said they did not consider an equal percentage of prize money to be equal pay.
“Canada Soccer has been engaged in ongoing discussions with our national teams, which are and always have been rooted in our values of fairness and pay equity – addressing previously unbalanced standards. It means dollars, not percentages,” Canada Soccer said in a statement. The federation says there has been progress in the negotiations.
For now, at least as long as FIFA’s disparities in prize money exist, men’s teams will likely have to get on board for women’s teams to earn equal pay, said Gina Antoniello, clinical assistant professor at NYU. School of Professional Studies.
“So how do we get this ally? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because women’s rights are human rights,” Antoniello said. “It’s, I think, a bit of a delicate balance, collaborating, but not being flattered.”