What is up with the controversies surrounding the upcoming Women’s World Cup? 

There is a buzz in the air as the world gets geared up for the Women’s World Cup, commencing from July 20 and running through to August 20 hosted by both Australia and New Zealand. 

The historic tournament is set to have 32 nations competing together for the first time. 

But there has been another kind of buzz surrounding the Women’s World Cup—thanks to a string of controversies that have cast a shadow on the event. 

Here’s a play-by-play of what you need to know.

1) There was a mutiny on the Spanish team

Spain will be competing in the World Cup without some of its most talented players. 15 players wrote to the Spanish Football Federation because they weren’t happy with the working conditions. 

The players said they would resign from the national team unless changes were made to improve “our emotional and personal state,” as per Yahoo!

In September 2022, Spain’s women soccer players resigned over what they called a “dictatorial” coach—referring to head coach Jorge Vilda. 

It was reported that the temporary resignations came weeks after a few Spanish stars reportedly urged head coach Jorge Vilda to step down, and asked RFEF president Luis Rubiales to fire Vilda. Both men had reportedly refused.

The federation counteracted with the following  statement:

“[We aren’t] going to allow the players to question the continuity of the national coach and his coaching staff, since making those decisions does not fall within their powers. The Federation will not admit any type of pressure from any player when adopting sports measures. These types of maneuvers are far from exemplary and outside the values of football and sport.”

Vilda said he had no intention of resigning. “I don’t wish for anybody to go through what I am going through these days,” he said last year. “I am deeply hurt, it’s an unfair situation nobody deserves.”

Three of the players who signed the letter ended up on the World Cup roster: Aitana Bonmatí and Mariona Caldentey, who play for Barcelona, and Manchester United’s Ona Batlle. 

Spain will face Costa Rica, Zambia, and Japan in Group C in New Zealand and “will still suit up Alexia Putellas, the reigning winner of the Ballon d’Or—given annually to the world’s best player.”

It was reported that many marquee players—such as Mapi León, from Champions League winner Barcelona—will not go to the World Cup. “It will really piss me off not to go to the World Cup,” León was quoted as saying this past March. “But my values come first.”

2) Player revolt has been a pattern…

In February, France captain Wendie Renard, who is a star defender for the team, said she would skip the World Cup “to protect” her mental health, TIME.com reported recently. 

Renard wrote the following in a statement: 

“My face may hide the pain but my heart is suffering … and I don’t want to suffer any more. Thank you for your support and for respecting my decision.”

French striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto and forward Kadidiatou Diani also said they wouldn’t suit up for the World Cup, as per TIME.com. 

What exactly was at the root of the issue?

Players had a problem with the leadership style of national team coach Corinne Diacre. Apparently Diacre had stripped Renard of her captaincy back in 2017, claiming she did not play as well for France as she did for Lyon. In 2021, Diacre reinstated Renard as captain.

It was also reported that French midfielder Amandine Henry—who will miss this World Cup due to a calf injury—said the tense atmosphere caused her and other players to cry in their rooms during the 2019 tournament. 

After Renard made her statement, the French federation president, Philippe Diallo, formed a four-person panel to investigate the team’s culture. 

The panel assessed that “the malfunctions observed seem, in this context, irreversible.” Diacre was let go in March.

“Hervé Renard (no relation to Wendie), who led Saudi Arabia to a stunning upset victory over Argentina at the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar—and who won Africa Cup of Nations titles as coach of men’s teams in Zambia (2012) and Côte d’Ivoire (2015)—was hired to replace Diacre,” TIME.com reported. 

Wendi Renard and Diani are on France’s World Cup roster. “Without unity, we can’t achieve anything – I insist on that all the time, and it’ll always be my guiding principle,” Hervé Renard told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “No one can be outside this framework, and no one is above the national team.”

3) With only days to go before the World Cup, the Zambian women’s team coach has been accused of sexually abusing players 

Just days before the World Cup, The Guardian reported that Zambia team coach Bruce Mwape is being investigated after authorities received complaints of sexual abuse from several players. 

Zambia is one of Spain’s rivals in Group C, along with Costa Rica and Japan.

Bruce Mwape was appointed in May 2018 and helped Zambia qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) said in September 2022 that it had referred an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the women’s game to FIFA—football’s governing body. 

“Mwape and the under-17 coach Kaluba Kangwa are understood to have been among the FAZ employees who were investigated,” as per The Guardian. 

4) Canadian women players feel a lack of support with funding 

Funding for women’s football teams have long been an issue. 

This past February, players on the Canadian women’s team also threatened to strike after they accused Canada Soccer of failing to properly support them in a World Cup year, according to TIME.com.

“Despite our strong track record of success and history-making achievements for more than a decade, we continued to be told that there is not enough money to fund our program and our youth teams,” the players union posted to Twitter in February. 

“Now that our World Cup is approaching, the Women’s National Team players are being told to prepare to perform at a world-class level without the same level of support that was received by the Men’s National Team in 2022, and with significant cuts to our program—to simply make do with less.”

In March, the players went to parliament about the situation. “We as players sometimes have to make choices about which medical treatments to receive when staff physiotherapists are stretched,” 

Canadian midfielder Quinn said at a committee hearing in Ottawa. 

Christie Sinclair, who has scored more international goals than any player in history, said she brought the team’s concerns to former Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis, who resigned amid the dispute in late February, as per TIME.com. 

“The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say and then later in the meeting referred back to it as, ‘What was it Christine was bitching about?’” Sinclair told lawmakers. 

Reportedly, Bontis said he didn’t recall using that language, but he apologized about it publicly. “She felt that I treated her concerns disrespectfully. I feel terrible about making her feel this way,” he said. “I’ve since communicated with Christine and her agent to apologize personally. It was a mistake. I take responsibility for it. I regret it.”

The pay issue isn’t just in Canada. 

Even though there has been progress in the United States and other countries when it comes to equal pay, the reality is that there is still a huge gap.

FIFA gives out four times as much prize money to men—$440 million for men in comparison to only $100 million for women. 

5) Australia and New Zealand are focusing on keeping the positive buzz around the Women’s World Cup in the spotlight 

Despite the controversies and issues with women’s football, the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup is being billed as the biggest edition to date. 

Australia and New Zealand want to leverage that buzz and even want the momentum to last long after the World Cup is over. 

Whatever is happening behind the scenes, the Women’s World Cup is a massive cultural moment for all women in sports. 

We’ll all be tuned in.

Also read: Why are Hollywood workers striking and how will it impact the industry?

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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