FIFA President Gianni Infantino has threatened not to show the Women’s World Cup in five European countries – including Britain – in a cash row despite internal warnings about the time zone before Australia and New Zealand were selected as hosts.
Sky News has uncovered FIFA’s administration twice warned in a bid inspection report that “a relative fall in audiences could be experienced in Europe” with a tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Infantino is now saying the Women’s World Cup might not be aired in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain because broadcasters are not offering enough cash for the rights.
The bid evaluation document was prepared in 2020 for FIFA’s ruling council to assess the bids ahead of the vote on the hosts of the 2023 tournament.
The report labelled the bid “low risk” commercially but also said in previously unreported comments: “The strong TV potential in the Asian markets, combined with additional domestic media sales opportunities, helps offset an expected relative fall in European audiences.”
Games would air in the mornings in Europe.
The tournament begins in 10 weeks’ time with the Lionesses as reigning European champions vying to win the world title for the first time.
Mr Infantino said the current offers from broadcasters for the rights were “disappointing” and described them as a “slap in the face” for all great players and “all women worldwide”.
The president said it was the “moral and legal obligation” of football’s world governing body “not to undersell” the tournament.
He claimed broadcasters had offered FIFA between $1m (£800,000) and $10m (£8m) for the rights, compared with $100m (£80m) to $200m (£160m) for the men’s World Cup.
The BBC and ITV are understood to be on the higher end of the rights fees in joint offerings.
ITV would be denied the lucrative prime time slots for the Lionesses it was able to sell to advertisers last year during the men’s World Cup – while showing Gareth Southgate’s side reaching the quarter-finals in Qatar, and Lionel Messi’s final World Cup with Argentina.
Mr Infantino said if the offers “continue not to be fair [towards women and women’s football], we will be forced not to broadcast the FIFA Women’s World Cup into the ‘Big 5’ European countries”.
FIFA+ is a broadcasting option if Britain’s free-to-air broadcasters – a necessity of the Women’s World Cup being a “crown jewels” event – do not meet the value sought. The streaming platform was used to air the men’s World Cup from Qatar for free in Brazil last year.
Mr Infantino partly based himself in Qatar in the run-up to that World Cup with FIFA saying it was “in order to deliver his presidential duties”.
But his only known visit to New Zealand since its successful bid for the tournament was for the Women’s World Cup draw last year. He has also not been pictured in Australia – where the final will be staged on 20 August in Sydney – since the tournament-hosting vote.
The countries did have forms of pandemic quarantine requirements for visitors from 2020 to 2022.
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Fatma Samoura, the FIFA secretary general, has been in Sydney in recent days to assess preparations for the first Women’s World Cup since the expansion from 24 to 32 teams.
Australia and New Zealand won the FIFA Council vote 22 to 13 over Colombia.
FIFA’s inspection report did raise concerns about the commercial proposition from the South American nation but was less concerned about TV audiences.
It only noted “kick-off times would… generally fall outside of evening European viewing times” but said the time zones “appeal strongly to the Americas market”.
FIFA boasted record-breaking audiences at France 2019, claiming the last Women’s World Cup was watched by more than one billion viewers worldwide.