One ironic potential beneficiary of FIFA’s equal pay ‘ambition’: the US men’s national team

Becky Sauerbrunn holds a US pennant during a SheBelieves Cup game against Brazil at Toyota Stadium on February 22, 2023 in Frisco, Texas. (James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

The contentious industrial dispute that has roiled American football for years was underpins by a galling, seemingly unafraid injustice: FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, paid participants in the men’s World Cup many times more than they did in the women’s World Cup.

So, as always, it was women who fought for better treatment. The US women’s national team in particular had to fight for equal pay. They won it last year alongside the US men Developing a plan to pool prize money from the World Cup with the men and take equal shares. It was a win for both groups of players – who became two of the highest-paid national teams in the world, regardless of gender – but especially for the women, who expected to win millions of dollars in excess of what they otherwise earn from FIFA would have .

That is, until Thursday, when FIFA President Gianni Infantino started talking about his own “path to equal pay.”

He spoke at the FIFA Annual Congress about his “ambition” to offer equal prize money at the 2026 men’s and women’s World Cups in 2027.

It’s a “target,” as Infantino called it, that ironically would have one beneficiary: the United StatesMN.T.

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Both US teams would, to be clear, benefit equally from FIFA’s reconnaissance. But their own agreement, originally designed to primarily boost USWNT, may ultimately boost USMNT even more.

Last year, the two players’ associations and US Soccer reached an agreement under which they will pool the World Cup profits from 2022 and 2023 and give 45% to the men, 45% to the women and 10% to the association. In 2026 and 2027, the allocation is 40%, 40% and 20%.

The purpose was to manually fill FIFA’s gap, which many expected would total $440 million for men’s teams in 2022, versus $60 million for the women’s in 2023. The widespread assumption was that even if the USMNT failed and the USWNT triumphed, the men would share with the women. There is no wording in their almost identical collective agreements that takes into account the possibility of FIFA itself equalizing prize money. Multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports that there are no regulations that would change the pooling system if FIFA drastically changes their payouts. After all, this scenario was once absurd.

But now it is no more. Now, after Players and FIFPRO, an umbrella organization for unions, pushed for higher prize money, Infantino speaks of “embarking on a historic journey for women’s football and for equality”. In particular, he talks about “equal payments for the 2026 men’s and women’s 2027 world championships. That’s the goal we’ve set ourselves,” he said on Thursday.

With the men’s World Cup expanding to 48 teams in 2026 and the women’s tournament only just expanding to 32, it’s unclear what “equal payments” would look like. But if they’re proportional — say, if the champion on both sides makes $40 million and the runner-up makes $30 million and a semifinalist makes $25 million and a quarterfinalist makes $20 million, and so on — then when, say, the USMNT hits the quarterfinals and USWNT loses in the finals, it would actually be the US women who would give the US men $4 million of their winnings.

In fact, USWNT has never finished worse than third at a World Championship, while USMNT has never finished better than eighth in the post-war period. So in the scenario illuminated by FIFA, pooling funds would almost certainly be a net win for the men.

But again, they would both benefit – from any increase in prize money on either side and from each other’s success. This dynamic is one of the many beauties of historic CBAs. When FIFA announced on Thursday that the 2023 prize pool would be $110 million instead of the $60 million previously discussed, that likely meant about $50,000 more for each individual US world champion, male or female.

During the negotiation process and discussions within the players’ associations, some calculations were based on the assumption of a $60 million pot in 2023, with the champion earning around $6 million. Now that it’s gone up, the math has changed. US Soccer earned $13 million from the USMNT’s Round of 16 adventure in Qatar, with $11.7 million going to the players’ pool. USWNT, which has a strong presence in New Zealand and Australia, could contribute almost as much depending on the exact payout breakdown, which FIFA has yet to announce.

Even with a triple peat this summer, women are unlikely to become the main payers and men the main beneficiaries. But in three and four years, and perhaps on balance in all CBAs expiring in 2028, that could be the case.

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