Former JFF exec calls for greater clarity regarding women's programme funding
From left: Reggae Girlz Chantelle Swaby and Solai Washington take part in a Reggae Girlz training session at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday. (Photo: Richard Bell)

BUSINESS consultant Sophia Harris says there needs to be greater transparency in the allocation of funding received by national football associations, including the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), for their women's football programmes.

Harris's comments are in light of global football governing body Fifa's concerns about what it considers unacceptably low offers for the rights to broadcast its Women's World Cup now on in Australia and New Zealand this summer.

Fifa says it has fallen roughly US$100 million short of its goal for broadcast rights sales for the tournament, which led to its president, Gianni Infantino, calling it a "slap in the face to women's football".

The Wall Street Journal reported that Fifa targeted US$300 million in sales, and that the body is set to receive US$50 million in new broadcast rights sales since last year's men's World Cup, which is about a third of the US$150 million new fees it hoped to secure.

Costa Rica's Maria Paula Salas (right) and Jamaica's Jade Bailey fight for the ball during the Concacaf Women's Championship match for third place, in Monterrey, Mexico on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Photo: AP)

Harris, a former director of marketing and business development at the JFF, served in that role from 2017 to 2019 and was responsible for developing the Reggae Girlz brand ahead of their debut at the Fifa Women's World Cup in 2019. This saw her fostering partnerships with corporate bodies locally and in the Diaspora to fund Jamaica's campaign.

She is now the chief executive officer of Lau Global Consulting, which specialises in executive coaching that allows businesses to build their brands to achieve sustainable growth.

Unlike Infantino, she does not believe that the women's game is necessarily being disrespected, but that broadcasters are instead being careful in their spending in light of various factors that affect their decisions on what products they bid for.

"I don't really think that it's outright disrespect by the broadcasters to not want to purchase the content," Harris told the Jamaica Observer. "I think that they're waiting for the content to prove to be offering the value aligned with the revenue that's being requested.

HARRIS...viewership, engagement — numbers, numbers, numbers are what the key media people in the region in my network have said to me are some of the things that they use to determine the value of content

"If you're asking for US$300 million for the broadcast rights, I think the broadcasters are waiting to see if it's worth it because they have limited spending to purchase content per year, per few years, so they have to be strategic in how they spend that money and what content they purchase."

The Fifa Women's World Cup, being staged every four years, competes against the World Athletics Championships and the ICC Men's World Cup cricket competition for broadcasters' bids as they typically take place during the same summer periods. For this reason, broadcasters consider a number of variables to determine the popularity of each competition and the value for money each represents.

"You have to look at the criteria they use to determine the value of the content," Harris says. "Viewership, engagement — numbers, numbers, numbers are what the key media people in the region in my network have said to me are some of the things that they use to determine the value of content.

"When you look at the Women's World Cup in 2019, their viewership was at 1.12 billion, and for the men's World Cup in 2018 the viewership was about 3.1 billion. And at the last men's World Cup [2022] engagement, the new criteria they use to assess the viewership, is five, going on six billion. The women are standing at about a quarter of the viewership of the men's World Cup, and therefore it stands to alignment because their prize money is at approximately a quarter of the men's. I wouldn't say it's disrespectful. I do believe that all stakeholders have the intention to support the development of women's football, but the onus cannot lie solely at the feet of the broadcasters."

That challenge for popularity for the women's game locally is further compounded by the local Women's Premier League's history of struggling to find funding, which also caused its hiatus between 2019 and 2022.

This is why Harris questions if the funding JFF has been given by Fifa for women's football development has actually been put to use in that way.

"I believe that of the US$1.5 million that's allocated to all the associations on average per year, the amount allocated towards women's development needs some accountability and transparency to ensure that that money is being channelled where it's supposed to — therein lies how you develop women's football."

That transparency is brought into question because of numerous public acts of dissent by Jamaica's Reggae Girlz over the years regarding investment in training camps, preparation matches ahead of tournaments, and also monies owed for representing the country at major tournaments. But this is not unique to Jamaica as a number of the Girlz' counterparts around the world are facing similar issues.

FIFPro, the global professional football players' union, found in a study that 29 per cent of women players say they are owed payments from their national teams for World Cup-qualifying tournaments.

The Reggae Girlz, like they did after their previous World Cup campaign in 2019, held a social media protest about their disgruntlement at the start of this summer. While in 2019 it mostly focused on monies owed, their most recent protest focused on what they said was an unprofessional approach by the JFF in planning for the World Cup.

They have since turned to a crowdfunding campaign, started by their own relatives, to cover the costs to compete at the World Cup this summer.

Nigeria also threatened to boycott their first World Cup match, which ended in a 0-0 draw with Canada on Thursday. This was because of what they allege was wage theft by their own national association.

The Reggae Girlz meet France on Sunday in their first World Cup game in Group F, which will kick off from Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia, at 5 am Jamaica time.

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator

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