Playing Like a Girl – The Inequalities Facing Female Soccer Players

This article deals with the inequality faced by some of the teams who played in this years Women’s World Cup.

Introduction

Last night the US women were able to triumphantly hold up the World Cup trophy, and this marked the ending to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was not only loud cheers that came with US win, but also chants sounding ‘Equal Pay!’ were heard across the Lyon stadium. This World Cup has not only brought debates about the newly implemented VAR system but also, and much more importantly, debates about women’s equality within the sporting world. Each team coming into the World Cup have not only faced tough battles on the field, but also off the field. Similarly to how each coach has a unique tactic set-up to deal with the opposing teams, so has each team had a unique way of dealing with their unequal treatment compared to their national men’s team. 

Women’s World Cup – A Brief History

One of the main arguments for women receiving less funding, lower salaries, and worse contracts, in general, are that it does not receive the same type of attention and thus not the same amount of financial support. The users of this argument seem to forget it the amount of time the Women’s World Cup has existed compared to the men’s. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was founded in 1991, that’s a mere 28 years ago, while the Men’s World Cup has existed since 1930. That 89 years ago. The men’s World Cup and the teams involved have had 61 years more than women’s World Cup to develop a fanbase and with that sponsorships and funding options.

Another element contributing to the lack of attention is perhaps that FIFA scheduled not 1, but 2 other large final’s the night of the women’s World Cup. It’s impossible to give the women the attention they deserve if 4 other big, and more established, men’s teams are playing at the same time. It does simply not allow habitual watchers and supporters to tune in on women’s soccer, and thus increase viewing numbers and general support. The extensive improvement of women’s soccer over the past few years has been incredibly considering the lack of funding and earned the attention they’ve continuously faced. 

Challenges

Each team coming into the world cup has had to face financial resistance from their respective countries, however just as each team has a unique playing style on the field as has each team dealt with the pay inequality in their own way. 

Thailand came into the competition as serious underdogs, and when faced with the United States they lost 13-0 and this is unfortunately what they have become most known for. Though the exact amount of money the Thai women’s team receives is unknown, it is known that a majority of their funding comes from their general manager Nualphan Lamsam. The Thai women have been hired by Lamsam, who is the chief executive of one of Thailand’s biggest insurance companies, to provide a secondary source of income during times without income from soccer games. It has allowed many of the women to continue playing the sport competitively, and without her funding, it is questionable as to whether the Thai women would have ever made it to the World Cup. With this type of unstable financial support and need for a secondary job, it is understandable that the Thai women cannot focus solely on soccer and thus end up losing as much as they did to the US.  

The newly crowned champions have taken other measures. In March 2019, 28 players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. This has been a long going debate, sourcing back to a 2016 discrimination complaint filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by five US women players. Their complaints were that they faced gender discrimination not only on their paychecks, which are significantly lower than the men’s (Despite the women now having won 4 world cup while the men’s have won 0) but also their training times and places, as well as medical treatment, coaching, and transport to matches. The soccer champions have inspired other US women teams to take a stance and demand more equality within their sports and the future outcome will be incredibly interesting. 

On a more positive note, the fight for equality has paid off in Norway. In 2017 the Norwegian Football Association announced they would pay the national women and men’s team the same. In order for this to happen the men agreed to give up some of their pay, and as a result the women’s salaries almost doubled. This shows just how much of a difference there initially was between the men and the women. If more countries followed Norway’s example, the world of soccer could suddenly look much more equal and the women would be able to focus entirely on soccer and the women’s game worldwide could improve even more. 

The Pay Gap is Real

Due to increased international pressure, and perhaps increased interest, FIFA doubled the prize money for this summer’s World Cup compared to the last tournament. The winning women will receive a mere $4 million compared to the $38 million the French men’s team took home after winning the men’s World Cup in 2018. It should be noted that collectively the men were playing for $400 million while the women have been playing for just $32 million – that’s 7.5% of the men’s overall prize money to be split among all of the competing women’s teams. Both men’s and women’s prize money has increased significantly over the past world cups but the pay gap remains. 

What’s Next?

The increased prize money in the women’s cup is a great first great step towards equality within sports, but so much more is needed to truly make men’s and women’s soccer equal and much of this involves more funding. More funding would improve the overall level of women’s soccer as better training academies could be put in place along with more coaches. Women around the world could, with higher salaries, focus entirely on their career as professional athletes, rather than have to take on secondary work as Thailand has had to. Women’s soccer has proven this year that it is here to stay, and the women involved have proven they are not here to play on anything but equal terms with their male counterparts. The next few years of women’s soccer and women’s sports, in general, will hopefully be years of growth and improved equality proving that playing like a girl is, in fact, an honorable attribute. 

Sources 

Given, Karen. “Ada Hegerberg’s Campaign For Soccer Equity In Norway.” Wbur, 7 June 2019, www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2019/06/07/ada-hegerberg-norway-equal-pay-soccer.

“U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Sues U.S. Soccer for Gender Discrimination.” The New York Times, 8 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/sports/womens-soccer-team-lawsuit-gender-discrimination.html.

Wong, Kristen. “What This Powerful Woman Has Done for Thailand Women’s Soccer Is Incredible.” The Story Exchange, 19 June 2019, thestoryexchange.org/thai-womens-soccer-team-lost-powerful-woman-cried-tears-joy/.

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