FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: The existence of women’s football is still up for debate


RFEF threaten the success of the Spanish team, and newly awarded broadcasting rights are a stark reminder that women’s football is still regarded as a second class sport

Article Image

Image by Sid the Kid2010

By Millie Simon

The Spanish team selection has been anything short of a controversy.

Even though striking workers are thought to be an exclusive feature of British politics, a significant number of the Spanish team have withdrawn their talents from the Women’s World Cup.

15 prominent Spanish players initially refused to be selected for the World Cup squad, due to reports of head coach Jorge Vilda’s poor training methods and poor game preparation.

Some of the best players in the world, including Mapi León and Lucía García, sent the same letter to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), with support from two-time Ballon D'or winner, Alexia Putellias, explaining their reasons for boycotting the team. The players alluded to decisions made by the coach that affected their “emotional and personal state” and believed that following the Euros in 2022, where the Spanish team were knocked out by England in the quarter-finals, it was necessary for a fresh start. The players refused to return to the squad. One of the team’s captains, Jennifer Hermoso, stated: “we transmit a message of general discomfort”.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) responded by unequivocally supporting Vilda by commenting: “The RFEF is not going to allow the players to question the continuity of the national coach and his coaching staff [...] These types of manoeuvres are far from exemplary and outside the values of football and sport and are harmful [...] The players who have submitted their resignation will only return to the discipline of the national team in the future if they accept their mistake and ask for forgiveness”.

This abrasive response from the Spanish Football Federation shows that the space for compromise and understanding has been disregarded, and demonstrates that its priorities aren’t the physical and mental wellbeing of the players.

However, there were reports that Jorge Vilda visited the players who refused to play under him as an attempt to unify the team.

Three players, including Ona Batlle, rejoined the squad after initially refusing to be selected - effectively crossing the picket line.

However, Mapi León – who is considered one of the best left-backs in the world – is persisting with her strike stating that, “I have things that are very clear to me, I need some changes, if those changes do not occur, then I have to assess whether I want to or I don’t want to continue with the situation as it is”.

But this isn’t an isolated event.

Some of the French players – Wendie Renard, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani  – with many other players showing solidarity, also withdrew from selection due to the French Football Federation (FFF) and the now former head coach, Corinne Diacre.

Diani explains how access to basic resources such as massage treatment aren’t provided which increases the likelihood of injury and called upon the FFF to make changes.

Corinne Diacre was dismissed earlier this year and the new French coach, Herve Renard, announced Wendie Renard is available to play in the Women’s World Cup.

If a ball is kicked on the other side of the world, but no one sees it, did it happen?

There were concerns that the tournament wouldn’t air across Europe as FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, was outraged that broadcasters were offering “100 times less” compared to the Men’s World Cup. He threatened a “media blackout” as the fees offered were a “slap in the face” to the players and “all women worldwide”.

Infantino also supported Qatar hosting the Men’s World Cup tournament last year. This was a decision widely criticised by football fans and the wider media as homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and there are frequent reports of human rights being under attack. Infantino’s support of the Men’s World Cup is perhaps more of a slap in the face.

Infantino is first and foremost, a businessman: “I work in women’s football where the level of tolerance and empowerment afforded to marginalised groups, particularly the LGBTQ+ community, is one of the women’s game’s greatest selling points”. It seems Infantino is only concerned about the advancement of the women’s game if it generates profit.

Thankfully, with just over a month to go before the World Cup, licences were granted and fans will be able to watch the World Cup. However, the dispute shows that the existence of women’s football is still up for debate. The 2022 Men’s World Cup broadcasting rights were sold to the BBC and ITV eight years in advance of the tournament, suggesting the men’s game continues to be the priority.

Both the Spanish Football Federation and FIFA have demonstrated that women’s football continues to be treated like a second-class sport.

But following the success of the French players’ strike and some of the Spanish players' continued refusal to join the squad until they are listened to, it begs the question if FIFA and the various federations will ensure that the football players are at the centre of decision making.