World Cup-winning coach Jill Ellis was hired by FIFA to be lead adviser on the future of women’s soccer as the governing body ramps up a campaign to turn the tournament into a biennial event.
Ellis led the U.S. to titles in 2015 and 2019 before leaving. She is tasked to examine changes to the international match calendar and competitive balance in a global women’s game skewed heavily toward a few elite nations.
Preparing to start on the technical advisory group, Ellis said no determined has been made whether to double the frequency of World Cups from their current quadrennial schedule. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has discussed playing the tournament every other year.
“That is a component of looking at different levers to pull to grow the game,” Ellis said in a video briefing Sunday. “Everything is going to be in the scope of conversation, but that has not been determined. I think that’s going to be part of the conversation of this group is to is to make recommendations.”
The Women’s World Cup and continental events such as the European Championship, Copa America and CONCACAF Golf Cup are held in odd-numbered years. The men’s World Cup and Euros are held in even-numbered years along with the Olympic soccer tournament, which for women is a major event involving national teams.
FIFA’s new vision for football would mean every year would feature a men’s tournament, which would deny the clear summer focus to promote the growth of the women’s game. A biennial World Cup also would clash with the Olympics.
“I’m aware that there is ongoing conversations on the men’s side, but I think they’re probably looking at a lot of different things in terms of handling the landscape,” Ellis said. “One of the things that I said to people is, ‘Listen, there can’t be a world championship, a major championship played on the women’s side on the same day as the men’s side.’ So just simple calendar alignment and working on it cooperatively so that both the women and the men, sports fans can stand tall. I think those types of things are important.
“So that’s looking at the scope of the calendar. And within that, we’ll probably come the discussion on the frequency of of world championships.”
There is seemingly more leeway in the calendar to accommodate World Cups every two years for women, The men’s schedule already is congested by club seasons than run from August until May, filled with league matches, domestic cups, European competitions and international competitions and friendlies.
“They’re just massive focus points in terms of just elevating our game, not just in terms of the economic drivers of sponsors coming to the table, but I think probably participation increases after major world events,” Ellis said. “So there’s a lot of reasons for us to dig in to what makes sense. But that’s still that’ll be part of the solution and part of the focus group’s task.”
The 54-year-old Ellis coached the U.S. team from 2014-19 and was voted FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year in 2015 and ’19.
FIFA has been criticized for the inequity in funding between men’s and women’s soccer. It awarded $400 million in prize money for the 32 teams at the 2018 men’s World Cup, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title.
FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup, and Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams to 32.
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