Women in football deserve equal pay- why the naysayers are wrong?
Take inspiration from the iconic Nina Simone and listen to her rendition The Times They Are a-Changin' while going through this piece.
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Written on: May 20, 2020
The cultural power that a sport can carry is gargantuan, yet this power is underrated. Largely because it works behind the curtains and quietly and effortlessly, it embeds itself in our minds. One seems to miss its presence unless one thinks critically about it. The field of sports, the way it functions and the attitude of the people responsible for running the game are all products of our larger society. Yet, in an oxymoronic manner, the same sport that is a mere microcosm of the society can bring about an influential change in society.
Football is arguably the world’s biggest sport. It unites people all over the globe. Time and again, it has provided us with heartwarming and inspirational stories. Yet, some critics refer to this game as “the most unequal profession in the world”.
Of all the professional footballers in the world, less than 1% are women. This reality must be discouraging for young female enthusiasts who might not think of football as a viable profession to pursue. Making the picture graver is the widening gender pay gap in the world of professional football. As per the 2017 Sporting Intelligence Survey, an average first-team player in the English Premier League received £2.64 million, while the average pay for a player in the equivalent women’s league, the FA Women’s Super League, was a mere £26,752 which makes the gender pay gap in football extreme compared to other sports.
Recently, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), which spearheaded the fight for equal pay, suffered a setback as their lawsuit for equal pay against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) was dismissed by a court.
Following the decision, Megan Rapinoe, USWNT’s co-captain who is the second-ever recipient of Ballon d’Or Féminin and was the winner of the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot at 2019 FIFA Women World Cup tweeted, “We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY.” Similar was the response of Alex Morgan, the other captain of USWNT, who tweeted, “Although disappointing to hear this news, this will not discourage us in our fight for equality.”
Their resolve to continue the fight was a heartening one because there are many reasons why national federations shouldn’t discriminate based on gender in paying wages to its players who are doing equal work and putting in equal effort.
The biggest argument against equal pay is that the men’s game has more commercial value and brings in more revenue; hence, the men should be paid more. However, when we look at the history of the women’s game which is full of injustices, we get a different perspective.
In 1921, professional football for women was banned by the English Football Association (FA) on the pretext that playing football was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” Similar bans on women’s football were introduced in France, West Germany, Brazil, and the Netherlands among other nations. The FA finally lifted the ban in 1971.
Before 1921, there were hundreds of women football clubs and the women’s game was quite popular. It had good commercial value and attracted thousands of spectators. It is a well-known fact that one game between Dick Kerr Ladies and St Helen Ladies attracted 53,000 spectators with an estimated 14,000 more people unable to gain entry into the ground.
Dick Kerr Ladies
While the women’s game was banned, the men’s game grew swiftly especially after the 1950s when more money was infused in the game. Once the ban was uplifted, the institutional support and investment that the women’s game received wasn’t even a fraction of what the men’s game got. While the women’s game was being neglected, the men’s game kept on growing and improving.
After the turn of the century, gradually efforts were made and more money was invested to improve the standard of women’s football. Yet, the discrimination existed, it just changed forms and had become more subtle. For instance, the 2015 FIFA Women World Cup, which was held in Canada, was played on an artificial turf which is an inferior surface to play as opposed to grass fields.
Moreover, an even graver injustice that the women’s sport faces which further frustrates the development of the game is the lack of proper and positive media coverage that their game receives. According to a study published in the journal Communication & Sport, in 2014, ESPN’s SportsCenter dedicated just 2 percent of its on-air time to covering women’s sports. The story is similar with numerous other broadcasters in various nations.
However, things improve during FIFA world cups. Lately, these competitions have been well advertised and widely telecasted. The international broadcast of the final of the 2019 world cup between the United States and the Netherlands had around 260 million viewers, which was a new tournament record. The broadcast of this game in the United States had more viewers than the 2018 men’s final. The women world cup is proof that if the women’s game receives the deserved respect and backing elsewhere as well then it can touch newer and greater heights.
Akin to the history of the world, the history of football is also one of gender-based inequity and prejudice. It is unlikely that the professional football clubs which are often owned by private capitalist organizations and individuals and oft are run as businesses would take a step towards equal pay for women because it is morally right to do so.
However, the national federations should follow the path taken by the Football Federation Australia (FFA), which has offered the Matildas, the national women’s soccer team, the same pay and conditions as the men in the Socceroos. Since the national federations bear the historical burden of vehemently hampering the development of the women’s game; it is their moral obligation to work in favor of correcting their mistakes.
Also, with the world cup as a prime testament, there is ample potential in the women’s game. From a strictly commercial perspective, investing early in a growing industry could be a positive step for the national football federations all over the world and this might even inspire professional clubs to be more equitable. Paying equally would be the perfect start because it would also encourage multitudes of young girls to follow and take up football as their career.