Haiti have played less than a third of the games in their run-up to their first Women's World Cup than reigning champions the United States, a highlight of a huge gap in playing opportunities, global players' union FIFPRO found in a study.
While the World Cup is a celebration of growth in the women's game with a record 32 teams competing, it is also a time to "analyse [its] sometimes-patchy development," said FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffman.
The World Cup Workload Journey Report conducted through analysis of data of 300 players underlines the uneven playing field between countries because of the huge discrepancies in playing calendars.
European teams played twice as much as players from the Caribbean over the past 10 months, according to the 45-page report with Football Benchmark. England, Spain and Portugal collectively played about twice as many minutes for their clubs and national teams as their counterparts from Jamaica, Haiti and the Philippines.
"Workload is a very important lens through which to view the state of the interest industry," said Sarah Gregorius, FIFPRO's director of global policy and strategic relations for women's football said.
"I think the Women's World Cup provides us that opportunity to pause, to look back a little bit at the four years between this one and the last one, and to do a bit of an analysis of the industry and where it's at."
One of the key findings was the lack of consistent data, Gregorius said, including data on the most basic of metrics such as matches and minutes played.
FIFPRO was unable to find any information at all, she said, on the Philippines, who have still not restarted since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That's part of the problem is there is a centralised system [to log games] but it's not consistently used by some of the federations," Gregorius said.
FIFPRO is also calling for standalone World Cup qualifying competitions in the Americas, Africa and Asia, since UEFA, which covers European football, is the only region that has one.
Japan and Brazil players logged the most minutes collectively of the non-European countries, while players from Australia, U.S., and Canada had significantly fewer minutes than most because of smaller domestic leagues or none at all (Canada).
Leveling the playing field poses challenges.
"It's an interesting one, because some of the situations in Europe are getting towards the other end of the scale of overload as opposed to under load," Gregorius said. "It is important that we make decisions that are going to impact the majority."
The U.S. have played a World Cup-high 65 games since winning the 2019 tournament, while Haiti have played just 19 and went two years during COVID-19 without playing a match.