Chants for equal pay echoed through the stadium even as the US Women’s National Team accepted their fourth consecutive victory in the World Cup.
From Serena Williams in Tennis to PV Sindhu in badminton to the recent heroine of the American football team, Megan Rapinoe--who not only scored one of the two winning goals in the game against the Netherlands, but spoke against gender discrimination in sports, giving voice to the outrage that has been simmering since the beginning of women’s slow entry into the world of sports.
As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup drew to a close, it was just the start of the battle for gender pay parity in sports. What these women are asking is simple. Something that workplaces world over are grudgingly coming to terms with--equal work (or, in this case, equal play) deserves equal pay.
Value of the prize
Each player of the US Women’s National Team will be taking home about $250,000 as prize money. At the same time, their male counterparts in the American Men’s National Team would have made more than $1.1 Mn each, if they had won in 2018. As far as the prize money for the Women’s World Cup in 2019 vs. the prize money for Men’s World Cup in 2018, the men got about $400 Mn in prize money as compared to $250,000 for the women players in 2019.
“At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won’t stand for it anymore. These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the Federation to correct this disparity once and for all,” said a spokesperson for the US World National Team in a statement.
Earlier this year, the American women’s football team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer. The grounds for the lawsuit covered the pay gap and the lack of high-level working conditions when compared to the men’s team.
“I think everyone is ready for this conversation to move to the next step. I think we’re done with, ‘Are we worth it? Should we have equal pay? Is the market the same?” said Rapinoe, who also won the World Cup Golden Boot this year.
Apart from the US team that is vying for gender pay parity, the Australian women’s national team has also threatened FIFA with a lawsuit unless they take action to solve the pay gap.
As a response to the outrage against unequal pay, FIFA has announced that their plan is to increase their investment in women’s football from $500 Mn to $1 Bn over the course of the next four years. It also plans to raise the World Cup prize money from $30 Mn in 2019 to $60 Mn in 2023. However, the fact remains that the men’s team that receives the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will get $440 Mn as prize money.
No discussion on pay parity is ever complete without someone saying to the R-word. Revenue. Men’s football (insert any sports--tennis, cricket, badminton, athletics--you name it!) garners more eyeballs, hence more advertising dollars. Once women’s sports start grabbing the attention of that many viewers and generating revenue in billions of dollars, only then can the women players get the required raise.
Many experts choose to look at gender pay disparity through a focused lens of just one tournament. It is time to zoom out and look at the state of women in sports through a wide lens.
Investing in women footballers
It starts in the local clubs where women’s football leagues compete for expert coaching, training, infrastructural facilities, advertising dollars and funding to be able to play to their full potential.
For a team that is bringing national pride, recognition, and accolades from the country--they at least deserve the human courtesy to get paid at par as their male counterparts who didn’t win the last World Cup.
Apart from the prize money and the widening pay gap between women and men players of the same game, Rapinoe has also highlighted the need for higher investments in the women’s football team.
Ensuring that the team gets training from esteemed football academies and gets the funding for various upskilling programs must also be on the top of the agenda for a team that is bringing accolades for the country with their consistent performance over a period of the last four World Cup tournaments.
When it comes to the disparity between women and men in the game of football, the World Cup is not the only tournament where a gender gap in pay and infrastructural facilities exists. It is a stark reality for football clubs across the globe.
The men’s teams get about $46 Mn assigned towards preparation costs in addition to the $209 Mn which are given to the individual clubs across the globe that give players for the World Cup. At the same time, the women’s teams get $11.5 Mn for preparation expenses and $8.4 Mn to the clubs.
Professionalizing sports for women
In the UK, women’s football first began as a fundraiser of sorts to raise money for the injured servicemen in 1920s. Even though the women’s football games drew spectators as high in number as 53,000 in Godison Park, the Football Association decided against letting women use their fields to play from 1921.
History marks this moment as the time when women’s football suffered a major setback.
Up until 13 months ago, even the famous Manchester United club did not have a women’s football team. Prior to the 2015-2016 season, the Football Club of Barcelona embarked upon an initiative to professionalize women’s football.
Women footballers were juggling full-time and part-time jobs and playing the game at the same time!
“Professionalization is also about training in the morning instead of late in the afternoon, getting a wider staff structure, eating at the premises under the strict control of our doctors which allows for better health and better performance and being monitored just like male footballers,” said Maria Teixidor, Board Member of FC Barcelona, in an exclusive interview with People Matters in March.
As one of two women on the Board of Directors of FC Barcelona, Maria Teixidor, Board Member of FC Barcelona, said her work is to make football relevant and important in order to ensure that the women players are treated fairly and equally.
The fight for equal pay begins at the ground level. From getting access to top-notch training facilities to being trained in such a way that the potential of players is identified and they are nurtured in a way that they become the best versions of themselves, she said.
The real issue at the heart of the matter is that there is not enough investment in the upskilling, training and coaching of women players. While hundreds and thousands of dollars are invested in coaching young men who show promise, the investment in women’s sports has historically been less.
Tensions over the widening pay gap between men’s and women's football players are not new. The Australian players’ union has also urged FIFA to pay both the genders equally. Back in 2016, the Nigerian team conducted a sit-in protest because of outstanding payments even after winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
The struggle for equal pay is a long-drawn one with players such as Ada Hegerberg choosing to quit representing Norway in the World Cup.
“The gap is enormous, but at the same time you need to give young women and girls the same opportunity as the men,” said Hegerberg.
Flicker of hope
Men and women in Norway started to get equal pay for playing and representing their country from 2017. A deal was struck in 2018 wherein the men’s and women’s teams would get the same payments and an equal amount in prize money, in New Zealand, when they are playing for their national team.
As the Dutch Football Association continues to see the commercial compensation of women players grow, they are targeting to equalize the women players’ compensation with that of the men from 2021 to 2023.
“We are very satisfied with the new agreements,” said Vivianne Miedema, the Arsenal and Netherlands striker who played in the World Cup 2019. “These are a step towards an equal appreciation for both men and women.”
Pay parity in other sports
The Williams sisters fought for equal pay in Wimbledon as well. Their fight started about a decade ago and bore fruit in 2007 when Wimbledon declared that both women and men will be awarded equal prize money.
“Together we will change the story--but we are going to have to fight for every penny,” Serena Williams had said a decade ago about equal pay.
The pay gap continues to exist even in the game of Indian cricket. The Women’s National Cricket Team is paid 14 times less than their male counterparts. Reaching the World Cup final and displaying prowess in the game notwithstanding, the disparity continues to exist because of the same reasons as it does for other sports: Women’s cricket started out later than the men’s teams, the budget allocated for the women’s team has historically been on the lower side. And the justification behind this pay gap is that they draw less viewership and revenue as compared to their male counterparts.
The only way to turn the tables is pretty clear: start investing at the ground-level and stop treating men’s and women’s games as different.
However, women in sports are a long way off from getting the required share of investment in their training and upskilling. A larger share of advertising dollars directed towards the women’s game and a higher level of commitment to the betterment of their game is going to prove instrumental at this juncture in the history of women in sports.
From the boardroom to the fields--the battle for equal pay continues.