So, now we know.
Now the men with all the power have spoken and kindly informed us that 1) all WE have to do to make positive changes in women’s football is CONVINCE THE MEN what they have to do to help us. If only we’d thought of that earlier, huh?
And 2) that the bonus dispute between the Lionesses and the English Football Association, which rumbled on throughout the build-up to this tournament, was all a storm in a timing-related teacup.
No need to get so riled up about it, ladies. The money was always coming your way — honest.
This sarcasm-laced introduction was brought to you courtesy of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his 22-minute speech at FIFA’s women’s football convention in Sydney, and the FA’s chief executive Mark Bullingham, speaking to the English press at the Lionesses’ training base in Terrigal, Australia.
Both came just days before the showpiece event in the women’s football calendar: the World Cup final.
Where to start? Let’s go with the man at the top, Infantino, who did actually make some pertinent points in his speech about establishing more professional leagues around the world and the press coverage of the tournament from some sections of the globe. (“It cannot be possible that there were 39 Italian journalists in Qatar, where Italy did not qualify, and zero in New Zealand and Australia, where Italy qualified.”)
But these points lose almost all credibility when they come from the man at the head of a governing body that for so very, very long has undervalued and undermined the women’s game.
And from the individual who said in the same speech: “I say to all the women — and you know I have four daughters, so I have a few at home (laughs) — I say to all the women, that you have the power to change. Pick the right battles. Pick the right fights. You have the power to change. You have the power to convince us men what we have to do and what we don’t have to do. You do it. Just do it. With men, with FIFA, you will find open doors. Just push the doors. They are open.”
So yeah, now we know.
All those years of pushing, not even for equality but for basic rights. All those years of struggle to take steps forward in a world where men make the rules and don’t even consider how they might apply to women. All those years of legal battles and player strikes to try to ensure the voices of female players are heard behind those doors Infantino insists have always been open.
And all we had to do was “pick the right fights”.
Infantino didn’t specify which ones these are but presumably, they are the ones that don’t require FIFA to ensure players receive the earnings they’re owed for representing their nation, or to make sure players are operating in a safe environment, or to treat the women’s game with the same level of respect and consideration that they do the men’s.
All that time we were picking the wrong battles. Silly us.
Talking of battles, the Lionesses thought they were locked in one with the FA over the performance-related payments they will receive from the federation at the end of this tournament. Discussions between the two parties had been going on since last year, with progress on the bonus issue painfully slow, even after Bullingham and head of women’s football Sue Campbell entered the discussions in the weeks leading up to the World Cup.
With the days to England’s first game against Haiti ticking down, the players released a joint statement expressing their disappointment that the issue hadn’t been resolved and saying they were “pausing discussions with full intentions of revisiting them following the tournament”.
From your Lionesses x pic.twitter.com/TMvPaLXwHp
— Millie Bright (@Mdawg1bright) July 18, 2023
So, the players — the ones directly involved in these discussions — clearly felt this was still very much a “live” issue, with plenty left to work through once the World Cup was over.
Not so, though, said Bullingham when he spoke to the media in Australia on Friday. Nothing of the sort, in fact.
Instead, it was all FIFA’s fault. “They were relatively late in announcing the prize money for the tournament,” he said, “and the bonuses always come off that. That meant we didn’t get the chance to finalise the agreement with the players before we came out here.”
If this was the case, surely the FA could, and would, have informed the players not to worry. That their performance-related bonuses were still very much in the planning and that it would iron out the details as soon as the tournament was over.
Instead, the group of players who arrived in Australia were left feeling sure enough of the battle ahead that they were driven to release a strongly worded statement informing the world of their grievances.
At best, Bullingham’s words read like a pretty transparent attempt to dilute the dispute on the eve of the biggest game in England’s history. At worst, they gaslight the Lionesses’ understanding that the FA was sticking hard and fast to its stance.
Either way, it stinks.
On Sunday, Infantino and Bullingham will take their seats to watch two teams in England and Spain who have dedicated as much time and energy to their off-pitch battles as they have to those on the field of play.
For these men to try to belittle, deny and denigrate those exhausting, exasperating fights on the eve of the biggest moment in the teams’ history leaves every woman even more certain of the battles that still lie ahead.
So now, we know.
(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)