James Dostoyevsky: Ranting and threats won’t cut it.

‘FIFA Pres Threatens to Block Women’s World Cup in Europe’, says Law360 writer Elaine Briseño in a recent article. Her intro says: “FIFA President Gianni Infantino is threatening to black out the Women’s World Cup in Europe if broadcasters there don’t loosen their purse strings, saying the offers for media rights thus far have been “very disappointing” and the additional revenue stream is needed to support equal pay for women.”

OK, wait.

Of course this publication raised the topic as well, as did many others. But few of us in the writer’s guild have considered the entitled arrogance with which our man GI Joe is aggressing his world of consumption.

Here’s a guy who sits on a pot of say, roughly, $7.5 billion. The last Congress, the one about “habemus papam(although it was the same-old, same-old and no white smoke anywhere in sight), blasted message after amazing financial message into the world of the believers that all is good, no: brilliant.

Money everywhere you look. More money to give to all. Another 4-year term safe and solid, and the next one, too, no doubt, with the never-ending manna that seems to come from Gianni’s money (honey?) pot. So all is good, one might think. Think again.

What the various leagues, a bulk of FIFA Members, and UEFA have been focused on for several years, and with growing intensity, has finally reached the “me-too” stage at the World Body that calls the shots. But “me-too” in a positive way, if any such thing were possible.

Gone are the days when a prematurely senile president blabbered about women having to wear shorter shorts (in order to increase the viewership figures of a male audience, he ‘thought’), and here are the days when all seems fine and dandy, except for the willingness of those damned European broadcasters to fork out the kind of money that good old Gianni seems to expect as his birthright and keeps demanding.

Let’s not be fooled by his borderline-infantile narrative. It is not about “respect for women’s football”. Nor is it about “giving women what they are owed”. It is, as always with the Supreme Leader, only about money. And worse: he thinks it is his money. Nah, not yet Gianni. It is not your money.

The fact that a number of European broadcasters are unwilling to fork out the double-digit millions of rights money (or is it triple-digits now?) to an organisation that is little more than a competition organiser who claims it owns global football, has nothing to do with respect for women or giving women’s football what it deserves. THAT is not their job. That’s Gianni’s job. As it is his job, FIFA’s job, to organise tournaments that are broadcast from time-zones that appeal to the vast majority of the paying public. And that happens to be Europe, and the US. Not Downunderistan.

The very reason why Frank Lowy’s efforts to drag the World Cup to Australia – paid for by the people’s (tax) money, not his, never his – failed so miserably, was not because of the valiant effort of the many paid hands, but because Australia, while having FiveEyes alright, is simply so far off the charts (in every single meaning of that expression) that staging a football tournament Down-under is possibly the second-worst idea one could have, right after putting sugar and cream on bangers and mash.

The main audience for women’s football is in Europe and North America. Simple. So, to drag the entire world of women’s football to Australia will, has to, result in stillbirth. Broadcasters or not.

No doubt there would be some excited boys and girls who’ll scrap their pre-lunch and watch a prime-time match at 11am or noon local time in Europe. But 5am on the US East Coast is a different proposition altogether. And if a top match is played at 5pm in Sydney, few American aficionados will raise in the middle of the night, at 3am, to watch their girls.

Besides the world being what it is: curved and full of unappealing time-zones, depending on where you are and what you do, there is another aspect that seems to have evaded FIFA’s thinking.

A product, any product, is only as valuable as the buyer is prepared to pay for it. If broadcasters in Europe, after having done their market research and budget calculations, conclude that it would affect their bottom line negatively were they to fork out huge sums of money for a tournament that would fail to generate viewer satisfaction, excitement and ROI, they won’t pay what they can’t refinance with advertising and subscriptions. Simple, really.

For good old Gianni then to run around blaming the customer – the very same customer who pays hundreds of millions for his other stuff! – that he must do better, and fork out more, or else, is as short-sighted and foolish as a blind man trying to mount the Matterhorn in tennis shoes.

Being the staunch capitalist that he is, FIFA’s Zampano should have understood by now that attacking those who feed you is a tad futile, if not idiotic. His recent (and very much ongoing) attacks of the media didn’t generate the kind of love he expected… His present attack on broadcasters – who feed the FIFA animal, without which GI Joe could not fork out the millions to his Members – seems foolish at best, and pretty damned arrogant at that.

His coffers are bursting with cash, it is not the broadcasters’ responsibility to pay more and thus deliver additional revenue streams to support equal pay for women. That additional revenue stream should and must come from FIFA’s Treasury Department, until such time as the ingenious world body understands that you don’t bring a tournament to the farthest away corner of the world when you want to, and have to, excite an audience that is having 6am breakfast or 12 noon lunch when their favourite team is playing.

Women’s football is still a nascent sport in the making. It is growing fast, as it should, and it attracts millions of new viewers. But it has not as yet reached the level men’s football has. The female version of the game must be further supported, developed and financed so as to make it on par with the men’s game. That will take time, not demands and infantile threats.

The development of the game is one of FIFA’s core obligations.

Go on then, develop.

James Dostoyevsky was a Washington-based author until the end of 2018, where he reported on sports politics and socio-cultural topics. He returned to Europe in 2019 and continues to follow football politics – presently with an emphasis on the Middle East, Europe and Africa.