As the summer of soccer approaches, Victor Montagliani, the vice president of FIFA and president of CONCACAF, reflected on the gains made for women in the sport -- but also noted the significant obstacles still remaining in the game worldwide.
Speaking about one of the more prominent off-field battles in the sport, Montagliani told Fox News in a wide-ranging interview that the sport has made notable strides towards pay parity.
FIFA doubled the prize money for the Women's World Cup to $30 million this year from the prize total four years ago and increased the amount for the winning team to $4 million. That remains a fraction of the money earned at last year’s men’s World Cup, where France received $38 million from a $400 million pool -- and that pool is still growing. FIFA has raised the men’s pool to $440 million for 2022.
“FIFA has started to tackle the gender pay issue, they’ve increased the prize money this year, and some have said that it hasn’t gone far enough,” said Montagliani. “Perhaps, it hasn’t, but at least it’s being addressed, and I think over time we’re going to see that gap narrow and narrow.”
U.S. star Megan Rapinoe is among the critics who maintain the sport’s top executives have the power to level the pitch.
“They have essentially unlimited resources,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t think that it’s really been a huge change at all…sort of the incremental change that we’ve seen is just not enough.”
But Montagliani said another critical issue facing women’s soccer is the challenge of getting girls to play the game in countries where it's not popular or encouraged.
“In CONCACAF there are 41 countries, and culturally, in some countries, it’s not as acceptable for a girl to play soccer,” explained Montagliani. “That is completely unacceptable to me…and, as president of CONCACAF, a big priority for me is breaking down the walls so that girls can play soccer in our region.”
FIFA has pointed to the increase in resources devoted to women and the number of women who've risen to leadership roles since Gianni Infantino became FIFA’s president in 2016: the hiring of Fatma Samoura as secretary-general, the first woman to hold the post; the addition of Sarai Bareman as FIFA’s first chief women’s football officer; the establishment of a FIFA’s women’s division; and using video assistant referees at the Women’s World Cup. FIFA said its staff at the tournament will be split almost exactly in half: 214 women and 218 men.
Montagliani was chairman of the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and will be a keynote speaker at FIFA’s Global Women’s Football Convention.
That event will be held ahead of kick-off and is set to be led by FIFA’s Director of Women’s Football, Sarai Bareman, and FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura.
“I’m looking forward to speaking to the issues and to bringing my daughter to the convention,” said Montagliani. “I think it will be a great experience for her to be in that room and see the leaders on the women’s side of the game make a difference.”
Montagliani called his time as the 2015 Chairman of the Women’s World Cup in Canada as “one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had professionally.”
He said he's eagerly awaiting the start of this summer’s tournament and added that, for the first time, there, are eight to nine teams with a legitimate chance to win the Women’s World Cup. Previous tournaments have been limited to just two or three legitimate contenders.
“The level of play is ridiculous,” Montagliani said. “It’s just outstanding…from a Puritan standpoint, I think the women play the game a lot healthier than what I see on the other side of the ledger. I think their passion and sincerity comes through and I think that really resonates with the fans, and I think it’s going to be a fantastic World Cup. I hope it’s an all CONCACAF World Final.”
This year’s Gold Cup is set to begin June 15 with the group stages and is slated to conclude on July 7 at Soldier Field in Chicago. This year’s tournament is seeing expansions in both format and venue.
“For the first time, we’ve taken the tournament outside of North America to include Costa Rica and Jamaica, and we’ve also expanded the tournament from 12 teams to 16 teams,” Montagliani said. “There’s been a lot of investment from our members and the quality of football has increased.”
The eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup starts June 7 in France. It will be broadcast in the U.S. exclusively on Fox Sports. Fans can watch live on FOX, FS1 and the Fox Sports app.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.