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Infantino eyes further Women’s World Cup expansion

Gianni Infantino (3L), seen attending the women’s World Cup semi-final between England and the USA, proposed expanding the tournament to 32 teams © AFP/File / FRANCK FIFE

LYON, France, Jul 5FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Friday he is determined to push ahead with plans to expand the women’s World Cup in time for the next tournament after hailing France 2019 as “the best ever”.

Speaking at a press conference in Lyon, where the World Cup concludes on Sunday as holders the United States and the Netherlands contest the final, Infantino said the tournament had been “phenomenal” as he promised huge increases in investment in the women’s game and to the prize fund for future competitions.

“There was a before and there will be an after the World Cup but it is up to us to seize the opportunity and do something about it,” added Infantino, who last month was re-elected for a second four-year term in charge of world football’s governing body.

Rolling out a series of proposals for the development of the women’s game, Infantino said he would try to expand the competition in time for the next tournament in four years.

“I think we should increase the number of participants,” said Infantino, who has succeeded in expanding the men’s tournament from 32 teams to 48 in time for the 2026 finals.

“The tricky thing is that we have a World Cup coming in 2023 for which we started just a couple of months ago a bidding process based on 24 teams, so there we will need to act more quickly if we want to have more teams already in 2023.”

This is only the second women’s World Cup since it was expanded from 16 teams to 24 in Canada four years ago. The competition started out with 12 teams in 1991.

Infantino suggested that FIFA may need to “reopen the bidding process and allow everyone to have a chance to organise or maybe co-host” but claimed that “nothing is impossible”.

A decision on who hosts the 2023 finals will be made next year, with Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Japan, South Africa, and New Zealand among the contenders, while the possibility of South Korea co-hosting with North Korea has also been raised.

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Earlier in the tournament, USA star Alex Morgan stated her wish to see the competition expanded to give developing countries more reason to invest in the women’s game.

“It’s great to see quality games and quality teams, and my hope is eventually we cap it at 32 teams moving forward,” she said after her team’s 13-0 demolition of Thailand.

Infantino also promised to double the prize fund for the next tournament having initially raised overall contributions from $15 million to $50 million in time for this year’s competition.

When that increase was announced by FIFA late last year, it was criticised by players union FIFPro, who said it actually marked a “regressive trend” compared to the men’s tournament.

The prize money for the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia was $400 million, a $48 million increase from 2014.

“I am very confident we can achieve the necessary figures,” Infantino said on Friday.

– Club World Cup? –

He said the increase was part of a wider plan to invest a further $500 million in the women’s game to achieve a total of $1 billion over the next four years.

“We have more than $2.75 billion of reserves, we don’t need all this money in the Swiss banks, they have enough money,” said the 49-year-old.

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“We need to invest this in order to make the whole movement around the world grow.”

His five-part plan for the future development of the women’s game also included establishing a “women’s World League” and creating a Club World Cup for women, “starting as soon as possible”.

“We can develop national team football only if we develop club football as well, all over the world, not only in a few countries,” he said while speaking at the home of Lyon, who have won the last four women’s Champions Leagues.

“We need a Club World Cup which can be played every year to expose clubs from all over the world and to make clubs — men’s clubs but also women’s clubs — invest even more in women’s football.”

Infantino is already pushing ahead with plans to expand the existing men’s Club World Cup to 24 teams.

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