The eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off on Friday when hosts France play South Korea at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

France team meets with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte (Getty Images)

France, with home field advantage and a very good team, is considered one of the two big favorites to lift the trophy for the first time. The other is the United States, which enters the competition as the defending champion. Germany and England are also considered to have a legitimate shot at winning the tournament. Only four countries have won the Cup: the USA (1991, 1999, 2015), Germany (2003, 2007), Norway (1995) and Japan (2011).

Chile, Jamaica, Scotland and South Africa will be making their World Cup debuts in France. Italy is back for the first time since 1999 and Argentina returns after missing out since 2007. 

The 24-team field is divided into six groups of four teams, with the top two teams from each group and the four best third-place teams advancing to the round of 16. At that point, the tournament becomes a knockout competition through to the final which will be played in Lyon on July 7. The third place match is in Nice a day earlier.

Following the success of the video assistant referee (VAR) at the men’s World Cup in Russia last year, FIFA in March approved VAR to be used for the first time in the women’s tournament.

Women Battle for Equality

But while FIFA has brought the women’s game to a level playing field with the men in terms of VAR, it is still receiving plenty of criticism for a series of decisions that reek of gender inequality.

FIFA has doubled the overall prize money for the Women’s World Cup to $30 million for 2019, with the winners receiving $4 million. But that still pales in comparison to the $400 million purse for the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia. Winner France took home $38 million.

FIFA said last September that for the first time it would pay for business-class flights for teams that have a flight of more than four hours to get to France for the 2019 World Cup. The Associated Press reported that FIFA offers business-class flights for 50 members of every men’s World Cup delegation. 

This week the world players’ union FIFPro said that FIFA had agreed “to start negotiating new conditions for women’s national team players after the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and we are determined to making real and lasting progress on behalf of them”.

Aga Hegerberg won the Champions League last month with Olympique Lyon (Getty Images)

The gender inequality issues are not only at the federation level.

Aga Hegerberg, widely regarded as the best player in the world, will not be on the pitch in France to play for Norway. She has not played for her country in two years, in protest to what she considers a lack of respect for women’s football in Norway. Her stance has not changed even though the Norwegian federation has agreed to pay the men’s and women’s senior teams equally and hired a woman as director for both teams.

In March, the U.S. women filed a lawsuit against US Soccer, the country’s national federation, alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination”.

Other examples of gender inequality include FIFA allowing the finals for two continental men’s tournaments, the Copa America and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, to be held on the same day (July 7) as the 2019 Women’s World Cup final. There are never any competing fixtures on the calendar for the men’s World Cup final.

Team USA celebrates 2015 title (Getty Images)

This follows the controversy from the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, where the women were required to play on artificial surfaces rather than on grass. FIFA forbids the use of plastic pitches for the men’s World Cup.

In February, FIFA revealed that the selection of the host country for the 2023 Women’s World Cup would be decided by the 37-member FIFA Council behind closed doors rather than in a public vote of all 211 member associations, as was done last year for the 2026 men’s World Cup.

FIFA launched its first-ever global strategy for women’s football last October, saying it wants to double women’s participation to 60 million worldwide by 2026.

But those efforts to develop and grow the women’s game from the grassroots will be tarnished if the federation continues to treat the world’s elite female players as inferior to their male counterparts.

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