Tag Archives: FIFA

FIFA pledges taking no health risks in men’s World Cup qualifiers

With 3,000 soccer players due to travel internationally for World Cup qualifying games next month, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Monday all will conform to health rules in the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will certainly not take any risk for the health of anyone when we play football,” Infantino said in a World Health Organization news conference in Geneva.

Delays in the 2022 World Cup qualifying program in most continents led FIFA last year to create new game dates next January. They will help make up the backlog in an increasingly tight schedule with broadcasting rights already sold.

In Asia, 40 national teams are due on March 25 to resume qualifying groups that last played in November 2019.

A total of 135 teams are due to play World Cup qualifiers next month, and 48 more have preliminary games for the 2022 African Cup of Nations.

“We will see where we can play, in what conditions,” the FIFA leader said, pledging to “do it by adhering to a clear health protocol.”

“We can see and we have been hearing earlier today from Dr. Tedros again that the situation is evolving week by week, day by day,” Infantino said, sitting beside WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

FIFA president expects full stadiums in 2022

Many of the players return home for national duty play for clubs in Europe, including in England which is experiencing an aggressive new variant of COVID-19.

FIFA eased its rules last year that require clubs to release players to national teams. Exemptions were offered if players had to travel to countries imposing mandatory quarantine or self-isolation for at least five days upon arrival or their return.

Asked if FIFA expected stadiums to be full when the World Cup opens in Qatar in November 2022, Infantino said: “Yes. We must have this.”

“COVID will be defeated by then,” he said, at a briefing on FIFA’s latest work with WHO.

FIFA will use the six-team Club World Cup starting on Thursday in Qatar to promote messages on health safety and fair distribution of vaccines.

Infantino, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee, repeated the Olympic body’s view ahead of the Tokyo Games opening in July that athletes should not get inoculations before key workers.

“We don’t consider football players as a priority group in this respect,” he said.

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FIFA eyes late 2021 to pick 2026 World Cup host cities

FIFA set a new target Tuesday of finalizing North American host cities for the 2026 World Cup — if the coronavirus pandemic allows.

The 23 candidate cities likely need to be cut to 16. FIFA said it could confirm them at the end of the the year.

The pre-pandemic schedule called for cities hosting the first 48-team World Cup — likely 10 in the United States and three each in Canada and Mexico — to be picked early this year. The new deadline will depend on FIFA officials being able to take inspection trips to 17 cities in the United States and three each in Canada and Mexico.

“The visits will only take place if the health and safety situation in the host countries allows FIFA to do so,” the governing body said in a statement.

Most of the venues in the United States will be NFL stadiums, with the home of the New York Giants and New York Jets expected to host the final on July 12, 2026.

“Realizing the commercial potential of each venue, as well as in terms of sustainability, human rights and event legacy, is of the utmost importance,” FIFA said.

The first World Cup with 48 teams will have 80 games instead of the current 64.

The proposal was to play 60 games in the United States and 10 each in Canada and Mexico when the bid contest was won in 2018.

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FIFA threatens World Cup, Champions League bans to squash potential breakaway super league

Plans by Europe’s richest soccer clubs to launch a new competition worth nearly $ 5 billion US annually jolted FIFA and Champions League organizer UEFA into warning players on Thursday that they would be banned from the World Cup if they take part in such a breakaway league.

FIFA and all six continental confederations issued a statement saying they would not endorse a new so-called European Super League, and that players who participate in such a competition would be banned from playing in major international tournaments — such as the World Cup or continental championships.

The statement was a clear response to proposals that are circulating in European soccer, and which have been seen by The Associated Press, for the creation of a 20-team annual competition that would include 15 top clubs as permanent members. The five other teams would vary each season, although the qualification method has not been determined.

Each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least $ 4.2 billion in initial infrastructure grants. The money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting $ 420 million.

Larger share of the pie

The Times of London, which first reported on the details of the proposal, identified Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool as being among the driving forces for the proposal. The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top four from each group advancing to the quarter-finals. That would guarantee every team between 18 and 23 annual Super League matches, compared to a minimum of six games in the Champions League group stage.

The games — apart from the final — would be played in midweek like the current Champions League, allowing them to still play in domestic competitions.

Real Madrid and Barcelona were linked last year with planning a breakaway competition inviting famous clubs to enter and increase their own wealth from global broadcasting deals by playing each other more often.

Outgoing Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said in October a Super League plan had been “put forward by the biggest clubs in Europe.”

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin denounced a “selfish and egotistical scheme” after Madrid president Florentino Perez was reportedly seeking financiers to back the project.

This latest Super League proposal hopes to generate $ 4.86 billion US annually from broadcasters. In comparison, UEFA most recently reported making a combined 3.25 billion euros from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.

The 15 founding clubs of the new competition would take the greatest slice of the broadcasting revenue.

Madrid and Perez were previously linked in 2018 to preparing an invitational breakaway league. That project was revealed in leaks of hacked clubs documents to German magazine Der Spiegel.

‘Deeper reforms’

The influential European Club Association, whose vice chairman is Real Madrid official Pedro Lopez, has a working agreement with UEFA for its members to play in European club competitions and co-operate to develop them “in a strategic and holistic perspective.” The working deal expires in July 2024.

Asked for comment Thursday, the ECA said it was working with UEFA on “deeper reforms” in competitions and financial regulations to take account of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the soccer industry.

The FIFPRO group of players’ unions declined comment on a potential threat to its members’ right to play in recognized national team competitions.

The 30-nation European Leagues group said Thursday that breakaway plans were “for a limited number of clubs similar to those franchise models operating in North America.”

FIFA and UEFA reaffirmed Thursday the importance of promotion and relegation giving access to all clubs as a key principle of soccer.

“Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch,” the FIFA-led statement said.

UEFA is expected to announce proposals in the coming weeks for modifying its club competitions’ entry paths and playing formats taking effect in 2024.

The group stage of the Champions League is likely to be changed to give clubs who qualify 10 guaranteed games instead of the current six.

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Lewandowski facing Messi, Ronaldo for FIFA best player award

It’s Robert Lewandowski’s turn to try to stop Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo from winning the FIFA best player award.

The Bayern Munich forward joined the two standout players on the three-man shortlist announced Friday.

Lewandowski’s goals led Bayern to a sweep of titles this year — the Champions League, the German league, the German Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.

One of his 55 goals last season came in Bayern’s 8-2 rout of Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Lewandowski could become only the second player — after Luka Modric in 2018 — to deny Messi or Ronaldo since their run of FIFA domination started in 2008. Messi has won the award six times while Ronaldo has won it five times.

Two Bayern players are among those whose career years were good enough only for third place in previous votes, Franck Ribery in 2013 and Manuel Neuer in 2014.

The women’s best player shortlist includes Lucy Bronze, Wendi Renard and Pernille Harder. Bronze and Renard are teammates who won the European title with Lyon last season. Harder played on the team that lost in the final, Wolfsburg.

Harder won the UEFA award as the best women’s player in Europe last season. Lewandowski won the men’s award.

Neither Messi nor Ronaldo made it onto the three-man shortlist for the European award, voted on by coaches of top European clubs and media. Kevin De Bruyne was runner-up and Neuer finished third.

The FIFA award was voted on by a four-part worldwide jury: national team coaches and captains, media and fans.

Voting has closed and the winners will be announced on Thursday at a virtual ceremony hosted by FIFA.

Bayern coach Hansi Flick, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa are in the running for the men’s coaching award. The coaching award in women’s soccer will be between Jean-Luc Vasseur of Lyon, Emma Hayes of Chelsea and Sarina Wiegman of the Dutch national team.

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New FIFA rules to protect female players’ maternity rights

Female soccer players should soon get their maternity rights protected under new employment rules announced Thursday by FIFA.

The governing body of soccer is preparing to mandate clubs to allow at least 14 weeks of maternity leave paid at a minimum two-thirds of a player’s full salary. National soccer bodies can insist on more generous terms.

“Her club will be under an obligation to reintegrate her into football activity and provide adequate ongoing medical support,” FIFA said.

Any club that ended a player’s contract for becoming pregnant faces having to pay compensation and a fine, and being banned from the transfer market for one year.

“The idea is to protect female players before, during and after childbirth,” FIFA chief legal officer Emilio Garcia said on a conference call.

The move is seen as a key step in professionalizing women’s soccer — and respecting players’ family lives — after a successful 2019 World Cup and more investment by elite clubs in having a women’s team.

United States forward Alex Morgan, a World Cup winner last year, signed with Tottenham in September, four months after giving birth to her first child. She played her first game this month.

The rules are expected to be approved by the FIFA Council next month and would take effect on Jan. 1.

Although FIFA’s judicial bodies have not been presented with contract disputes over maternity rights, Garcia targeted getting ahead of potential problems in the fast-growing women’s game.

“We think these rules are part of common sense,” he said of the move, which follow International Labor Organization standards on compensating maternity leave.

At least eight weeks of the 14-week minimum maternity leave must be after the player gives birth.

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FIFA bans Haitian soccer president for life for sexual abuse

Haitian soccer federation president Yves Jean-Bart was banned from the sport for life on Friday following accusations of systematic sexual abuse of female players.

The FIFA ethics committee found Jean-Bart guilty of “having abused his position and sexually harassed and abused various female players, including minors” from 2014 until this year.

He was also fined $ 1.1 million US.

Jean-Bart has denied the allegations, which involve national team players. The accusations were first revealed by British newspaper The Guardian in April.

An appeal will be filed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a spokesman for Jean-Bart said in a statement.

“FIFA’s decision is a travesty of justice and purely political move to avoid further controversy and bad press following a series of high-profile scandals,” spokesman Evan Nierman said.

Incidents allegedly took place at ‘The Ranch’

The abuse is said to have happened at the country’s national training centre at Croix-des-Bouquets, which FIFA helped fund. It was known as “The Ranch.”

As the head of Haitian soccer since 2000, Jean-Bart “wielded huge power and has high-level connections into the government, political, and legal systems,” Human Rights Watch said.

Haitian state authorities have been urged by the advocacy group to investigate the allegations and protect the players, who also said they were intimidated and threatened.

“This is not a case of one bad apple,” Human Rights Watch global initiatives director Minky Worden said ahead of the FIFA verdict. “Athletes have testified that many other officials in the Haitian Football Federation — officials responsible for their safety — either participated in sexual abuse or knew and turned a blind eye.”

3 others suspended 

Three more Haitian federation officials have been suspended from work while FIFA investigators gather evidence, technical director Wilner Etienne, national centre girls’ supervisor Nela Joseph, and assistant coach Yvette Felix.

Federation officials are accused of being “principals, accomplices or instigators” in the systematic abuse, FIFA said Friday.

Jean-Bart had been “actually investigated and cleared” by the judicial system in Haiti, his spokesman said.

“FIFA failed to review actual evidence which is why Dr. Jean-Bart expects to be fully exonerated and reinstated after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” Nierman said.

Since the allegations were revealed, FIFA has pledged to work on safeguarding players in an agreement with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

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FIFA president faces criminal charges in Switzerland

A criminal case against FIFA president Gianni Infantino was opened by a Swiss special prosecutor on Thursday, plunging the soccer body into a new scandal and potentially threatening the tenure of the man who was brought in to restore its tarnished reputation.

FIFA said it and Infantino will co-operate with Swiss authorities after prosecuto Stefan Keller — barely a month into the job — concluded there is enough evidence to go to court after investigating the circumstances of a meeting Infantino had with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber.

The turmoil involving Lauber, who offered his resignation last week, centres on three meetings he had with Infantino in recent years — including one that he hadn’t disclosed and claimed no memory of — just as he was leading a sprawling investigation into soccer corruption.

Keller, a regional court judge, uncovered “elements that make up reprehensible behaviour,” an oversight panel monitoring federal prosecutors said in a statement. He opened a case against Infantino and regional prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, a childhood friend of the FIFA boss, and sought authorization to open a case against Lauber.

Keller, who was named to the post of special prosecutor on June 29, found possible infractions included abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, “assisting offenders” and “incitement to these acts,” the panel said, adding other criminal acts and proceedings could also be considered.

Under the Swiss criminal code, conviction for abuse of public office can bring penalties of up to five years in prison or other detention, while breach of official secrecy and assisting offenders can incur up to three years each. Each charge can also bring financial penalties.

Suspects in such cases benefit from a presumption of innocence in Switzerland until legal proceedings are completed.

It was unclear whether Keller believes the alleged wrongdoing was the mere fact that Lauber and Infantino had met, or if compromising information was divulged during their conversations.

FIFA said it “acknowledges” Keller’s decision, and vowed it and Infantino “will, as we have always done, co-operate fully with this investigation.” It also highlighted past troubles at soccer’s governing body before Infantino took office, and said meetings with prosecutors were necessary.

“As president of FIFA, it has been my aim from day one, and it remains my aim, to assist the authorities with investigating past wrongdoings at FIFA,” Infantino said. “FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes.”

FIFA also revived a statement from Infantino on June 25, when he said: “To meet with the attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal. It’s no violation of anything. On the contrary, it is also part of the fiduciary duties of the president of FIFA.”

At the time, Infantino also quipped: “this whole thing is quite absurd.”

In March, Lauber was found to have lied to and obstructed the oversight panel. Its probe began after reports last year said he had an undisclosed meeting with Infantino in a hotel in Bern in June 2017.

Lauber did not take notes at the meeting and both men later claimed not to recall details of their discussion.

It was their third meeting and had stayed secret when Lauber called a November 2018 news conference to acknowledge the previous two, which had been revealed in the “Football Leaks” series publishing confidential documents in the soccer industry.

Lauber and Infantino, in meetings brokered by Arnold, had previously met twice — soon after the FIFA presidential election in February 2016.

On Friday, Lauber offered to resign only minutes before a federal court upheld allegations that he lied about the third meeting — in essence rejecting his appeal of the March ruling.

“On the basis of general life experience, such a case of collective amnesia is an aberration,” the federal court ruling said.

Elected in 2016 

Infantino gained the FIFA presidency in the fallout from the investigations that erupted around the governing body in 2015. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who had already announced plans to resign in the wake of arrests of dozens of soccer officials, was banned from world football.

Michel Platini, the favourite to succeed Blatter and then serving as UEFA president, was also suspended, which ended his chances of leading FIFA.

In the void, Infantino, who led the UEFA administration as general secretary, saw a route to leading FIFA. The Swiss-Italian was elected in 2016, beating Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman.

The Bahraini is senior vice-president of FIFA so would be in line to replace Infantino temporarily if he was suspended due to the criminal case.

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Banned for life by FIFA, former soccer officials line up to appeal

The first of a number of appeals by former soccer officials banned for life by FIFA was heard Tuesday at sport’s highest court.

FIFA said Ariel Alvarado — a former member of its ethics committee — challenged its verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Alvarado is one of at least 29 officials banned for life by soccer’s governing body in the last five years.

The Panamanian’s case kicked off a monthly series of upcoming appeals at CAS brought by Latin American soccer officials removed from soccer after being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on various charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy.

The sports court has scheduled an appeal in August by disgraced former Brazil soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira, who has questioned if the U.S. federal evidence is accurate.

Next up in September is Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay who was convicted at a 2017 trial in Brooklyn. The conviction was upheld on appeal last month.

Another Brazilian, Marco Polo del Nero, is expected to have an October date with CAS, and an appeal is pending for Manuel Burga who was banned by almost two years after the Peruvian was acquitted by the same jury which convicted Napout.

CAS said Tuesday that Alvarado’s hearing was conducted by video link from the court in Lausanne, Switzerland — a process made routine by travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, other remote hearings are likely simply because the appellants — such as Teixeira and Del Nero — risk arrest in Switzerland since their indictments were unsealed by the Justice Department in December 2015.

Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 in the aftermath of early morning raids at luxury hotels in the city to arrest top soccer officials attending FIFA meetings and a presidential election.

Arrests revealed sprawling corruption, bribery

Those arrests revealed the sprawling — and ongoing — American and Swiss investigations of bribery and corruption worth tens of millions of dollars linked to marketing deals and hosting votes for the World Cup and other international competitions.

The American case developed over years from early targeting of Chuck Blazer, the most senior elected American at FIFA for more than a decade who became a co-operating witness.

Blazer’s life ban, imposed by FIFA on July 9, 2015, was the first of around 30 so far arising from the Justice Department evidence. Blazer was seriously ill at the time and died in 2017.

Alvarado was found guilty last year by FIFA, relying on American evidence, of getting at least $ 230,000 US in bribes linked to commercial contracts World Cup qualifying games and the CONCACAF Gold Cup from 2009 to 2011. At the same time, he sat in judgment of other soccer officials summoned before the FIFA ethics panel.

At his own FIFA ethics hearing, Alvarado argued he was a victim of double jeopardy because the North American governing body, CONCACAF, has previously banned him from soccer in the region.

Teixeira, however, disputed the U.S. evidence in a wider federal investigation that has seen guilty pleas, convictions and indictments from dozens of soccer and marketing officials.

The FIFA allegations against Teixieira, his lawyers argued last year, “are no more than assumptions made by U.S. attorneys, without any evidence to support the indictment.”

Teixieira, like many others, was also fined 1 million Swiss francs ($ 1.06 million US) by FIFA ethics judges.

The first verdicts from CAS judges are likely late this year and should continue into 2021.

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FIFA calls on organizers not to sanction in-game gestures supporting George Floyd

FIFA urged soccer competition organizers on Monday to apply “common sense” and consider not sanctioning players for solidarity with George Floyd during matches.

The recognition of the “depth of sentiment” over Floyd’s death came in a rare statement by FIFA telling the global game to show flexibility and not enforce laws of soccer it helps to set.

Players used weekend games in Germany to reveal messages demanding justice for Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after he pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck in Minneapolis.

Germany’s soccer federation announced earlier Monday that it was assessing whether to sanction the players for breaking laws of the game that prohibit “any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images” on equipment.

WATCH | German league players show support for George Floyd:

During Sunday’s Bundesliga action, Marcus Thuram takes a knee and Jadon Sancho unveils a shirt that says ‘Justice For George Floyd’. 0:40

“FIFA fully understands the depth of sentiment and concerns expressed by many footballers in light of the tragic circumstances of the George Floyd case,” the governing body said in a statement.

“The application of the laws of the game approved by the IFAB is left for the competitions’ organisers, which should use common sense and have in consideration the context surrounding the events.”

FIFA controls half of the eight votes on the International Football Association Board, with the other four held by England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. A law change in 2014 — proposed by England — led to players being banned from revealing personal statements on undergarments.

England winger Jadon Sancho was booked while playing for Borussia Dortmund on Sunday for removing his jersey — a yellow-card offence — only so he could reveal a T-shirt with a “Justice for George Floyd” message.

WATCH | Canadian athletes speak against racism:

Canadian athletes have been speaking out against racism and for change, including tennis youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime, basketball legend Steve Nash, and Olympians Kia Nurse, Karina LeBlanc and Perdita Felicien 2:38

Borussia Dortmund teammate Achraf Hakimi displayed the same message on a T-shirt after scoring in the same game on Sunday but was not booked because he did not lift his jersey over his head.

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee for several minutes on his neck. Three other officers were also at the scene. Chauvin has been charged with murder and all four were fired.

In the Bundesliga on Saturday, American midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband over his Schalke jersey with the handwritten message “Justice for George,” and Borussia Mönchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring for Borussia Mönchengladbach in another game.

On Monday, after the Deutscher Fussball-Bund said it was assessing the players’ actions, Cologne forward Anthony Modeste became the latest to make a gesture after scoring against Leipzig. He stood briefly with his right palm facing out and his left palm facing in to display the darker skin on the back of his hand.

Cologne said it was “a clear signal” against racism from Modeste.

WATCH | ESPN’s Howard Bryant reflects on Kaepernick’s preaceful protest:

ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant on the death of George Floyd and the resulting civil unrest. 4:19

DFB president Fritz Keller on Monday showed his respect and understanding for McKennie, Thuram, Sancho and Hakimi’s gestures.

“If people are discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour, it is unbearable. If they die because of their skin colour, then I am deeply distraught,” Keller said in a DFB statement. “The victims of racism need all of us to show solidarity.”

The expressions of protest are being investigated by the German soccer federation’s control body.

“As is the case internationally,” federation vice-president Rainer Koch said, “the game itself should remain free of political statements or messages of any kind.”

FIFA’s awareness of the depth of feeling over the racial inequalities highlighted by Floyd’s death comes amid ongoing criticism soccer is not doing enough to eradicate or punish racism.

“FIFA had repeatedly expressed itself to be resolutely against racism and discrimination of any kind and recently strengthened its own disciplinary rules with a view to helping to eradicate such behaviours,” the Zurich-based governing body said. “FIFA itself has promoted many anti-racism campaigns which frequently carry the anti-racism message at matches organised under its own auspices.”

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FIFA says support of women’s soccer will continue amid coronavirus pandemic

Soccer’s international governing body says it will maintain funding for women’s soccer despite concerns about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the Women’s World Cup last year, FIFA President Gianni Infantino pledged to invest $ 1 billion US in the women’s game over the next four years.

“In line with the FIFA Women’s Football Strategy and FIFA’s long-term vision for the development of women’s football, this funding will be invested into a range of areas in the women’s game including competitions, capacity building, development programs, governance and leadership, professionalization and technical programs,” FIFA said in a statement provided Tuesday to The Associated Press. “We can confirm that this funding has already been committed by FIFA and will not be impacted by the current COVID-19 crisis.”

The Guardian first reported that FIFA’s funding would not drop because of the coronavirus.

FIFA also said it is assessing the financial impact the pandemic is having on soccer worldwide, including the women’s game, and is exploring possible ways to provide assistance.

“The exact format and details of this assistance are currently being discussed in consultation with FIFA’s member associations, the confederations and other stakeholders,” the organization said.

FIFA has said it sees a duty to offer a lifeline from its cash reserves, last reported at more than $ 2.7 billion, as the economic consequences of the pandemic ripple across global soccer.

“FIFA is in a strong financial situation and it’s our duty to do the utmost to help them in their hour of need,” the organization said in a statement late last month. “FIFA is working on possibilities to provide assistance to the football community around the world after making a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact this pandemic will have on football.”

Pandemic already taking toll

Infantino reiterated the pledge in a video message to FIFA’s member associations.

FIFA’s commitment comes after FIFPro, the international players’ union, called for continued financial support of women’s soccer worldwide. The union issued a report saying COVID-19 is “likely to present an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.”

There are early signs the pandemic is already taking a toll on the women’s game, in addition to the cancellation and postponement of league play and tournaments worldwide. In Colombia, Independiente Santa Fe suspended all player contracts for its women’s soccer team recently but said its men’s team would only see pay cuts.

The pandemic struck at a time when women’s soccer was on the upswing, boosted by the success of last year’s World Cup in France.

“We do have concerns about investments in the women’s game being dropped or reduced or pre-crisis investments being withdrawn, ultimately, from the women’s game. We’re concerned that decision-makers might ignore the needs of women or exclude women’s football from recovering support programs,” said Amanda Vandervort, chief women’s football officer for FIFPro.

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