Fifa boss vows to boost Women's game

US World Cup winners start victory tour and coach's farewell with 3-0 win over Ireland

PASADENA • Fifa president Gianni Infantino took time out of his vacation to drop by the Rose Bowl for a celebration of the 2019 Women's World Cup champions.

And he is confident that the next winners in 2023 will reap even bigger rewards in four years.

Departing coach Jill Ellis and the United States women's national team began the their five-game victory tour with a 3-0 win over Ireland on Saturday night that renewed attention on the players' gender discrimination lawsuit, in areas including financial compensation, against governing body US Soccer.

Late in the goal-less second half, that crowd started a loud chant of "Equal pay! Equal pay!"

Infantino was in the stadium tunnel after the game to congratulate Ellis and her players, even posing for photos with the veteran coach.

The Swiss repeated his desire to see constant growth in the women's game, including his recent declarations of his determination to double the prize money to US$60 million (S$82 million) for an expanded 32-team tournament in 2023, up from 24 teams.

"We have until 2023 to discuss the prize money," the Fifa president said. "I think we need to market it as well in a certain way, and I'm very confident. I'm sure we can go higher than (doubling the prize money). We need to be optimistic."

Optimism about the women's game abounded on a celebratory evening that will be replicated in Philadelphia, St Paul and Charlotte before Chicago on Oct 6 to conclude Ellis' 51/2 years in charge.

Ellis announced her decision on Tuesday to walk away as the first two-time women's World Cup-winning coach, and this win improved her record to 103-7, with 18 draws, in the US job since 2014.

The new boss will have a compressed time frame to prepare the Americans for the Tokyo Olympics, which will see the semi-finals contested this time next year.

Nearly four weeks after their World Cup-clinching win over the Netherlands, the US showed off the ample two-way talent with which their new coach can work.

Megan Rapinoe, the Golden Ball winner in France, and Alex Morgan missed the game with minor injuries, while Mallory Pugh had a minor muscle issue during warm-up.

A pre-game ceremony included the unveiling of banners depicting four huge cloth stars symbolising the Americans' record four world titles.

The Rose Bowl, appropriately, is the site of their second triumph in 1999, which was watched by a crowd of over 90,000, and a statue of Brandi Chastain celebrating her winning penalty against China sits in a park near the front entrance.

Among the fans were retired Los Angeles Lakers' basketball legend Kobe Bryant and Alessandro del Piero, the retired Juventus star who lives in Los Angeles and owns a Hollywood restaurant.

With a crowd of 37,040 cheering their every move, the hosts had little trouble with 33rd-ranked Ireland. Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Carli Lloyd scored first-half goals.

Said Infantino: "The US team, the way they performed, the way they won, the way they came over and contributed greatly to the success (of the World Cup), now it's up to us together with them to build something sustainable and meaningful for the future."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2019, with the headline 'Fifa boss vows to boost Women's game'. Print Edition | Subscribe