Gender equality on and off the pitch?

Photo: Nicole Miller/Flickr.

05.10.2017

By Mads A. Wickstrøm
Although crowds are increasing, female football players continue to fight for equal rights in a sport where considerable differences between men and women remain.

The year of 2017 has been a good year for women’s football. With a total TV audience of more than 100 million, a social media interaction of more than 20 million, and a record aggregate attendance for the tournament, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) reported an ‘unprecedented’ interest in this summer's Women's European Cup.

Last month, the Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) managed to forge a ground-breaking deal with the Football Federation of Australian (FFA). The deal includes AUD$ 10,000 (€6,650) minimum playing contracts for female players in the Australian W-League.

Football clubs in Europe are also picking up the interest in women’s football. Major European clubs such as FC Barcelona, Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea already have a women’s side – with Juventus and Real Madrid having announced their intentions to launch women’s teams as well.

However, despite the recent surge in interest among spectators and football clubs, female players have yet to achieve rights similar to those of their male counterparts.

Danish women’s team wants fair compensation

The past year has been marked by a series of controversies between female players and national football associations over issues such as payment of expenses, salary and access to proper training facilities. 

In Denmark, a dispute is currently unfolding between the players of the Danish women’s team and the Danish football association (DBU). The players are seeking basic compensation because a majority of them either do not have a professional contract with a club or they do not have an adequate income to make a living.

For the players who spend an average of almost 70 days a year on international duty, the group is seeking a basic monthly fee of less than €1,000.

“We do not negotiate to get rich. It is about ensuring that we can live up to our own and DBU’s expectations,” Sanne Troelsgard, who has made more than 100 appearances for Denmark, told Danish newspapers at a press conference.

The previous collective bargaining agreement expired early last month. The players and their union, Spillerforeningen, have been discussing a new deal with DBU since December 2016 but are yet to reach an agreement, writes The World Players’ Union, FIFPro.

DBU does not want to assume legal responsibility for compensating the players i.e. they do not want to be considered an employer for these national-team players.

“We have presented an offer that is slightly better […] we have said repeatedly, that DBU is not an employer and the players are working for the clubs,” DBU told the Danish press.   

FIFPro fully supports the women’s team:

“The players consider it to be an honour to play for their country, which they proved at this year’s European championship. But they should not be out of pocket to play for the national team. They are entitled to a fair compensation from their football association so they can prioritise their football career,” said FIFPro about the conflict between the women’s team and DBU.

The men’s national team have suggested that the DBU redistributes DKK500,000 (€75,000) a year of the men’s team’s income to the women’s national team.

“Women must not have inferior rights to us,” said captain Simon Kjaer, according to FIFPro.

Argentinian national team on strike

Last week, the Argentinean national women’s team went on strike, citing structural problems such as lack of payment and of basic resources including poor training conditions and poor travel arrangements to properly train and play matches, reports Inside World Football.

The Argentinian women’s players who are paid a mere US$8.50 per training session, have attempted to discuss these issues with the Argentine Football Association (AFA). However, the AFA has reportedly refused to acknowledge the requests made by the women’s team.

“We have managed this situation in the best manner and with the best predisposition possible, remaining open to dialogue and attending the corresponding training sessions, but we have not received the same treatment, and thus we have been obligated to cease attending practices,” said the women’s team statement, according to Inside World Football.

“We also demand that the training facilities be adjusted to meet the levels necessary for the preparation of a national team: we need locker rooms appropriate for the number of players who make up the roster just as we need a grass field for practice,” added the team statement.

The team is supposed to be back in training for the 2018 Copa America, which will take place in April, but has now gone on strike, writes Inside World Football.

Quitting before their prime

The conflicts over financial compensation in Argentina and Denmark are far from unique. In June, the Scottish women’s national team have objected to terms offered by their federation. In April, the Irish women’s team threatened to pull out of a friendly match against Slovakia protesting the lack of financial compensation. Earlier this year, the United States women’s team managed to forge a deal improving its working conditions. 

A recent survey by FIFPro of 3,300 women players from 33 countries reveals that 35% of national team players do not receive any compensation for representing their country. Although women’s football has attracted attention from clubs and spectators in recent years, nearly 90% of players say they may end up cutting short their career.

“Our research shows how hard it is for even national-team players to make a career in football. Players who devote years of their lives to get to the top of the game are surely entitled to a fairer slice of football’s revenue,” said FIFPro General Secretary, Theo van Seggelen.

Key findings in the FIFPro study include:

  • 87% would consider quitting football early
  • 66% of national team players are not satisfied with tournament prize money
  • 50% are not paid by their clubs
  • 35% of national team players are not paid for representing their country
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