Anger at Fifa for its Women’s World Cup tax exemption when players had to pay

<span>Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA</span>
Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

Fifa has been heavily criticised for negotiating an eight‑and‑a‑half‑year tax exemption for the 2023 Women’s World Cup when the players in Australia ended up paying 32.5% of their match fee income to the country’s tax office (ATO).

Football’s world governing body is exempt from paying tax on any income in or from Australia from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2028 but, as the Guardian revealed last month, players from several countries were forced to pay almost a third of their match fee income to the ATO. This was in stark contrast to the co-hosts New Zealand, whose Inland Revenue Department exempted Fifa and the players from all taxes.

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Kathryn Gill, a former Matildas player and co-chief executive of Professional Footballers Australia, was surprised and disappointed to learn that Fifa had negotiated a tax exemption for itself but not the players.

“While taxation law is complex, the principle of equal and fair remuneration isn’t,” she told the Guardian.

“Given Fifa was able to negotiate withholding tax exemptions with the Australian government to their benefit, it is puzzling that this wasn’t extended to the very people who helped to generate the tournament’s revenues.

“In adopting this approach, the players have been left to shoulder the burden, unlike Fifa who have sought to be the beneficiaries. Our starting point on players’ remuneration at the Women’s World Cup is that prize money should have been equalised back in 2019. This would have resolved many of the issues related to players’ pay that emerged before and after this tournament, and ensured players received a wage that recognised and rewarded them for their central role in the tournament.

“Instead, many of this generation’s players will have to wait another four years to earn the same prize money as male professionals – and that is only if Fifa upholds its verbal commitment.”

Nigeria was one of the countries hit by the tax rules with the Super Falcons players receiving $42,500 of their $60,000 match fees as a result of the ATO deductions. Other teams playing all their games in Australia had the same level of taxation applied to them.

South Africa’s players were even worse off as they have been hit by double taxation – from the South African Revenue Service (SARS) as well as the ATO. While they played most of their games in New Zealand the ATO taxed them pro rata for the days spent in Australia.

“For every match played in Australia, the participating associations had to withhold the tax. SARS will also be coming [for their share] at the end of the tax year, because we didn’t withhold enough,” Lydia Monyepao, chief executive of the South African Football Association, said.

Fifa and its wholly owned subsidiary FWC2023 Pty Ltd received the exemptions in Australia’s Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing tax integrity and supporting business investment) Bill 2022.

In chapter two of the amendment’s explanatory memorandum, it says that “Fifa and its wholly owned subsidiary – FWC2023 Pty Ltd – received income tax and withholding tax exemptions from the Australian government, for activities associated with delivering the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup … although the exemptions apply retrospectively from 1 July 2020, they are wholly beneficial to the affected entities as they ensure that no income tax is payable on specified income and they also exempt certain withholding tax obligations.”

Asked by the Guardian why it protected its own income but failed to include the players’ match fees in the tax exemption deal, Fifa said it sought a concession for the players but the Australian government refused it.

“Fifa engaged with the relevant parties in both host countries, including the tax authorities on all tax matters – as Fifa does with all tournament hosts – even prior to the hosting appointment being made for the Women’s World Cup 2023,” a Fifa spokesperson said.

“These steps included cooperating with the authorities in Australia directly for the taxation of players to be exempted, which was not ultimately accepted. While Fifa does not agree with the decision, but ultimately will respect it, it is in line with other sporting events that have taken place in Australia.”

With regards to the exemptions granted to its Australian subsidiary, the world governing body said: “The local Fifa subsidiary for the tournament was an entity that was specifically set up to deliver the event in the host countries. It was an entity that had therefore higher expenditure than income, which was funded by Fifa.”

The Australian government, when asked if Fifa had pushed for the players to be exempt from tax, would only say: “The Australian government provided a range of support for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup, including tax concessions in line with previous sporting events.”