By: Uchechi Anaba
Although it has been just a few weeks since the commencement of the ninth FIFA Women’s World Cup, this year's tournament has already cemented its place as a moment of major firsts.
For one, the initial lineup included 32 women’s teams, rather than the previous 24, with countries such as Portugal and Morocco— who frequently dominate the men’s competition, alongside Zambia, Ireland, the Philippines, Haiti, Panama, and Vietnam, making their World Cup debut. Furthermore, rather than being hosted by one country, the games are co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, who have invested heavily into the competition alongside FIFA and other big-name brands such as Unilever, allowing all rounds of the games to be easily accessible on network television, a recent feat.
No questions asked, the 2023 games have been a commercial and mainstream success, deservingly so by the athletes and their fans who have advocated for the increased support of women in professional sports. Yet, as enthusiasts of the sport and global citizens, we must not turn a blind eye to the various injustices FIFA, its investors, and the various team federations have caused.
The slogan for this year’s WWC, Beyond Greatness, was chosen to “provide the spark of inspiration that ignites a new era for women’s football,” FIFA commented earlier this year, largely in part due to the mobilization of female footballers speaking up against the various inequities within their profession (Rosengarten). A commendable cause by the organization, but in looking at the historic and current dealings of FIFA it cannot be helped but to notice the hypocrisy within their statement, especially when juxtaposed with the controversial 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup, which took place in Qatar, a country riddled with accusations of human-right violations towards migrant workers, members of the LGBTQ+ community, socio-political activists, and women. FIFA wants to be a champion for women, queers, and players from underdeveloped nations, but that attempt is immediately negated by the organizations they choose to partner with and how they implement certain programs.
As stated earlier though, the onus is not only on FIFA, but also the team federations, which are sponsored by individual countries, who routinely exploit their powers over their athletes. Currently, members of the Super Falcons and the Reggae Girlz— Nigeria and Jamaica’s women’s teams respectively— have had their pay withheld, higher-ups within the Haitian and Zambian camps have been found or accused of sexually assaulting and abusing female players, and further mismanagement and underfunding have plagued many of teams within the games, leaving athletes in a vulnerable position. Unfortunately, little has been done to properly mediate these problems as many of these nations have far bigger issues such as political corruption, violent crime, and natural disasters to deal with.
But still, the World Cup and similar competitions deserve to be better regulated and fairer for their athletes and fans, as they often act as a unifying force for people all over the world. The inner workings of the game should then reflect that same positivity, rather than undermine it through greed, instability, and complacency. So yes, enjoy the tournament— I know I have— but understand that more needs to be done to ensure the sustainable growth of the sport and the creation of a welcoming environment for its players.
Written by intern Uchechi Anaba