Women’s World Cup over, fight on to level the paying field

Ada Hegerberg, Megan Rapinoe and USWNT's prowess have kept the fight for equal pay in the spotlight before the Women's World Cup, through it and after it.

The difference in the finances is often cited as the reason for the pay gap between men's and women's football. But how do you compare when the value for one is not known?   -  Getty Images

Perfect play, imperfect pay. The all-conquering US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) will have none of the latter.

A Megan Rapinoe penalty and a Rose Lavelle long-range strike against the plucky Netherlands took America to a record fourth Women’s World Cup title, and as the champion basked in the applause in Groupama Stadium, up went the chants. “Equal pay, equal pay!” chanted the US fans, donning their team's red-coloured away jersey, and echoed their team's thoughts.

Before the World Cup, US women's team members filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation alleging "institutionalized gender discrimination" and pointed to inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men's national team.

A Guardian report after the USWNT progressed to the quarterfinal said that a player could receive up to $200,000 if the team became world champions. However, for a similar feat, a US men's national team member could potentially earn $1,114,429.

This staggering difference in the earnings of the men’s and women’s teams is at the root of the fight for equal pay. The USWNT's prowess kept this fight in the spotlight through the World Cup and after it.

READ | Women's World Cup 2019: 5 things we learned from USWNT's historic title run

The USWNT is not alone in its fight. Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, one of the best players in the world, refused to play for her national team in this World Cup to continue her protest against gender and wage discrimination.

Hegerberg, the first recipient of the Women’s Ballon d'Or last year, hasn’t played for Norway since 2017 when the team crashed out of the Euros.

Her reason is simple. "I've always respected men's footballers for what they earn. The gap is enormous, but at the same time you need to give young women and girls the same opportunity as the men. That's where we need to do the change."

Not long after Hegerberg stepped away from the team, Norway signed an equal pay agreement, with the men’s national team giving away 550,000 kroner ($63,626) for commercial activities to their women counterparts. Hegerberg, however, has not relented.

The fight for pay parity is resonating with many. In April this year, the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) agreed to help subsidise one-year professional contracts for eight female players, but it amounted to $330 a month. Also, this came about only after UAI Urquiza player Macarena Sánchez made headlines when she sued her club and the AFA for not being recognised as a professional.

According to the 2017 Sporting Intelligence annual salary survey, while there are 137,021 male professional footballers in the world, the women's count is 1,287.

READ | US bill would link 2026 World Cup funds to women’s equal pay

Ada Hegerberg refused to play for Norway in the 2019 Women's World Cup to continue her protest against gender and wage discrimination.   -  Getty Images

 

What football's top administrators propose

Ahead of the USA-Netherlands final, FIFA president Gianni Infantino proposed doubling the total prize money of the Women’s World Cup to $60 million in 2023. This would still be well below the $400-million prize money for the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup. Incidentally, the men's purse will rise to $440 million for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

“It certainly is not fair,” said Rapinoe, who became the oldest goal scorer in a World Cup final when she opened the scoring for the USA against Netherlands. “We should double it now and then use that number to double it or quadruple it for the next time. That’s what I mean when I talk about do we feel respected?”

READ | Rapinoe takes aim at FIFA over prize money gap, finals scheduling

FIFA gave $11.5 million to teams in the 2019 Women’s World Cup for preparations and handed out $8.5 million in club compensations. However, the 2018 men’s World Cup received $48 million for team preparation costs and another $209 million was given to the clubs that released players for the tournament.

The conversation

The difference in the finances is often debated over the commercial value of the two. But how do you compare when the value for one is not known? This is the basis of Tatjana Haenni's argument.  

Haenni, who stepped down as FIFA head of women’s soccer in 2017, told the AP,  “What is the potential value of the Women’s World Cup? Nobody knows the Women’s World Cup commercial value because it’s not sold separately. This is something that should at least be discussed.” 

According to a FifPro survey of women’s football, 88% of FA Women’s Super League players earn less than £18,000 ($22,427) per year and 58% have considered quitting owing to financial reasons.

The English players in the FA Women’s Super League receive an average of £26,752 ($33,329) a year, while the men in the Premier League are paid an average of £2.64 million ($3.29 million), almost 99 times higher, according to the 2017 Sporting Intelligence annual salary survey.

100

Brazilian great Marta believes group effort is required in the cause of equal pay.   -  Getty Images

 

READ | Premier League considers takeover of FA Women's Super League

In terms of salaries, the WNBA is touted to be the best-paid women’s sports league in the world. Yet, women basketball players earn way less than the men in the NBA. In the 2017-18 season, the average NBA salary of male players was $7.77 million, whereas the average salary of WNBA players was $78,021, according to a Sporting Intelligence 2018 report. Essentially, men made 100 times more than women.

Brazilian great Marta believes group effort is required in the cause of equal pay. “... Ada (Hegerberg) is paying a price of not playing for her country but this fight of hers is a fight of all of us. She doesn't have to carry this responsibility alone..."

During the World Cup, Marta also raised concerns over the future of women’s football. "We're asking for support, you have to cry at the beginning and smile at the end," she said in an emotional post-match interview following Brazil’s last-16 exit.

READ | Brazil's Marta dedicates landmark goal to gender equality

"You have to want more, train more, to be ready to play 90 minutes, plus 30 minutes extra-time and every minute. This is what I ask (of) the girls. Formiga is not forever, neither is Marta, neither is Cristiane (Rozeira). Women's football depends on you to survive. Think about it, savour it."

Rapinoe, torchbearer of a national team with four Olympic Golds and four World Cup trophies, is clear about the direction the pay parity fight should take. "It's time to move that conversation forward to the next step. A little public shame never hurt anybody, right?"