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Soccer: World Cup shines spotlight on gender pay disparity

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By Philip O’Connor

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The players set to light up the Women’s World Cup in France next month may play for big-name clubs like Barcelona, Arsenal and Juventus but, although salaries are improving, they earn a fraction of the money paid to their male counterparts.

Nilla Fischer, who will move from Frauen-Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg to FC Linkoping in her native Sweden when the tournament is over, gave Reuters a stark assessment of the gap between men’s and women’s wages in a recent interview.

“What they maybe make in an hour, I make in a year,” she said bluntly.

The vast pay inequality was one of the reasons that prompted Women’s World Cup holders the United States to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in March.

All 28 members of the 2015 World Cup-winning squad were named as plaintiffs in federal court in Los Angeles in the lawsuit which outlined complaints about wages as well as other aspect of their working conditions when compared to the U.S. men’s side, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

The group that includes high-profile players such as Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan said they have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts even though their performance has been superior to the men’s team.

“We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender,” Morgan said at the time when the lawsuit was filed.

The advent of fully-professional leagues like the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England is a step in the right direction, but there was still a long way to go, sports agent Lindi Ngwenya told Reuters.

“The definition of ‘fully professional’ is that the players are paid a salary that they can live on, so from this season all the players that you see in the WSL are on a basic (wage) of 20,000 to 25,000 pounds ($25,904 to $32,380) a year, plus accommodation, with the big clubs paying slightly more,” she said.

ENORMOUS GULF

In contrast, the average pay for a male footballer in England’s Premier League was 3 million pounds a year, according to the 2018 Sporting Intelligence Global Sports Salary Survey – or more than 100 times what their female counterparts are paid.

Despite that enormous gulf, improved salaries for women footballers in England represents a big step up from the most recent report published by player’s union FIFPro in 2017.

The Global Football Employment Report contained the results of a survey of 3,600 top-level female players around the world and revealed an average wage of $600 a month, with 50% of players saying they did not get paid for playing.

Short-term contracts and a reliance on verbal, rather than written, agreements added to the insecurity for female players, according to the report.

Former rugby player and British army officer Ngwenya, director of London-based agency SISU Sports Management, said the structure of contracts varies from country to country.

French clubs are the top payers on straightforward professional contracts, while mid-tier German sides often offer a part-time employment contract with a local company on top of payments for playing.

Though high-profile internationals such as Norway’s Ada Hegerberg and Brazil’s Marta can earn six-figure sums and complement their salaries with lucrative endorsements, not all players are so lucky.

MARKET VALUE

Ngwenya said bigger crowds and more media attention means more sponsorship and ultimately more money in players’ pockets.

“We’re seeing more money coming into the game, which clearly at the end of the day is going to be the driver,” she said.

“The English FA subsidises the women’s game a lot at the moment, but the hope and the plan is that commercial sponsors will come in to take up that slack and take the game forward.”

For sponsors and the media it all comes down to return on investment, and the exposure provided by the Women’s World Cup in France will provide a chance to gauge the current popularity and market value of women’s football.

“The big tournaments are good, but we also want to get to a stage where the club game gets a commensurate amount of TV time and exposure,” Ngwenya added.

Despite the enormous gap between the earnings of women and men, she was hopeful for the future.

“I can definitely see the progress – yes I would like it to be faster, but we are definitely making progress in the right direction,” she said.

(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)

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