Fifa threatens Women’s World Cup European blackout
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has threatened to not broadcast the Women’s World Cup in five European countries unless TV companies improve their rights offers.
Infantino said “disappointing” offers from the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and France were a “slap in the face” of the players and “all women worldwide”.
He added it was Fifa’s “moral and legal obligation not to undersell” the event.
The World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, starts on 20 July.
Infantino said European broadcasters had offered world football’s governing body $1m-$10m (£800,000-£8m) for the rights, compared with $100m-$200m for the men’s World Cup.
“Should the offers continue not to be fair, we will be forced not to broadcast the Fifa Women’s World Cup into the ‘big five’ European countries,” Infantino said at a World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva.
“I call, therefore, on all players, fans, football officials, presidents, prime ministers, politicians and journalists all over the world to join us and support this call for a fair remuneration of women’s football. Women deserve it, as simple as that.”
Rights offers for previous tournaments were bundled together with other events including the men’s World Cup, but Fifa has now separated the bidding process.
In calling for improved offers, Infantino said all TV revenue for the tournament would be reinvested in women’s football and that public broadcasters in particular, such as the BBC, have a “duty to promote and invest in women’s sport”.
The BBC held the sole broadcast rights in the UK for the 2019 Women’s World Cup but shared the rights for the recent men’s World Cup in Qatar with ITV.
It has widely been reported that the BBC and ITV will share broadcasting rights for this summer’s tournament, although no announcement has been made.
A BBC Sport spokesperson said it did not comment on sports rights negotiations.
Last year the Women’s World Cup and European Championship were both added to the ‘crown jewels’ of British sporting events, which require free-to-air coverage.
The official spokesman for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he had not seen Infantino’s comments but added: “I think the Prime Minister, like everyone in the UK, would want to see such an important event televised, not least following the huge success of our Lionesses.”
Infantino added that Fifa had trebled the total prize money to $152m compared with the 2019 tournament in France and reiterated the organisation’s desire to have equal pay for the men’s and women’s World Cups by 2026 and 2027, first announced at its annual congress in March.
According to Fifa’s data, 1.12 billion people watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France – the most watched women’s tournament ever.
Almost half of total viewing hours were from Europe, with the average viewing time of 4.14 hours per person across the whole tournament more than double the average of the rest of the world.
That could be partly attributed to the favourable time zone and that seven of the eight quarter-finalists were European, with England reaching the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners the United States.
Kick-off times for the 2023 World Cup are less favourable, ranging from 01:00 to 12:00 BST, though England’s three group games start between 09:30 and 12:00 and the final is scheduled to kick off at 11:00.
“Maybe, because it is in Australia and New Zealand, it’s not played on prime-time in Europe, but still, it is played at 9am or 10am, so it is quite a reasonable time,” added Infantino.
Interest in women’s football continues to rise, with a record global audience of more than 365 million watching last summer’s Euro 2022 in England, with 50 million tuning in for England’s victory over Germany in the Wembley final.
Domestically, the Lionesses’ triumph was watched by a peak BBC One television audience of 17.4 million, making it the most-watched women’s football game on UK television. There were a further 5.9 million streams of the game on the BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app.
Research from the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) revealed that the amount of time the average UK viewer spent watching women’s sport in 2022 was more than double the 2021 figure.
In a statement, the WST said: “Given this is the first women’s tournament that Fifa has sold broadcast rights unbundled from the men’s, it is hugely significant. Broadcasting major events like the Fifa WWC are key to igniting fandom.
“British broadcasters have been big supporters of women’s sport over the last few years so this roadblock won’t be about not wanting to show the tournament. Going forward it’s important to have more open conversations about value.
“We hope that all parties involved will find a solution that gives the players, fans and sponsors the World Cup they deserve.”