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Female footballers' working conditions are even worse than you think

Saturday 16th December 2017

A damning report came out this week by Fifpro, the worldwide representative organization for all professional footballers. The report was the first ever global study of working conditions in women’s professional football. It showed the massive scale of gender inequality in the women's game.

The Telegraph reported on how the survey shows that football is letting down female players. Quite incredibly, “88 per cent of players in the Women’s Super League, the top tier in England, can earn under 18,000 GBP a year and 58 per cent of the competition’s players are considering quitting for financial reasons.”

Upon reading the full report, the statistics get even more shocking. The average monthly salary for the global female player is just $600 and 30% combine their football career with another job. Even the highest-paid female football star, Brazilian Marta Viera da Silva has a relatively low pay of $500,000 annually at Rösengard. Compare that to Lionel Messi, whose new contract last month sees him paid $667,000 a week. Critics say Lionel Messi brings in more revenue, so naturally receives more pay – but what if the tables were turned like in the United States?

The disparity is even more surprising in America, as US women's soccer is actually a more popular sport than US men’s soccer. Last year, the players of the US women’s national team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming they were paid far less than their male counterparts. The filing stated that although the women’s team generated nearly $20 million more revenue [in 2015] that the US men’s team, the women were paid about a quarter of what the men earned.

Fifpro also found a worrying level of discrimination and harassment in the women’s game. Considering that Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was “The Silence Breakers” and the hashtag #MeToo has swept across the globe, unfortunately, this is no longer surprising. 3.5% of the players reported sexual harassment. Although this is a relatively low percentage, that means 116 of the 3,295 women who participated in the survey have faced harassment. The report itself cautions not to take the figure at face value and calls for further research. “It is likely that for such a sensitive subject, which is known to have the potential to trigger feelings of embarrassment, shame and/or guilt, the actual figure is higher.”

What can be done to improve the working conditions?

One way to improve the working conditions of the women’s game is simply to have more female leaders in global football organizations. There are far too few women in leadership roles. It was only a few years ago, that the first female member joined the FIFA Executive Committee. Lydia Nsekera was elected to the post back in 2013 and said,

“I will inspire women to believe they can lead, I will push them to let their girls play football because it is a school of life, and I will support women in the Member Associations.”

But, are these few female leaders actually progressing the female game? In a disastrous interview earlier this year, Mahfuza Akhter Kiron a new female member of the FIFA Executive Committee, was unable to name the current women’s world champions.

FIFA needs to focus less on fixing its image and attempt real reform. Female footballers deserve real leaders who understand and follow the women’s game. It’s not enough to just add a few females into the ranks to improve the member ratio. It’s about placing individuals who can enact real change and share insight into the challenges that female footballers face in their day-to-day working conditions.

A great example of the lack of FIFA executives following the game can be seen with the award “The Best.” While male finalists are typically chosen due to championships and performance on the international stage, the female finalist selection process has little rhyme or reason. Players who are out-of-form or played in competitions that are not relevant get considered and selected as finalists. SB Nation succinctly describes why this is the case:

“Coaches, captains, and select journalists from all of FIFA’s member nations with women’s programs are allowed to vote, which should prevent favoritism or a narrow concentration on players from one part of the world. Unfortunately, what this process actually does is allow people who don’t follow global women’s soccer into the voting pool without any kind of vetting process, turning the vote into one about fame rather than soccer performances.”

The female game is certainly improving. There are great teams like Barcelona and Rösengard who have a strong following and culture. But, there is a long way to go. Female footballers need more support and deserve the same recognition as their male counterparts. To do this requires an overhaul in how FIFA thinks about and respects female footballers. If the organization itself can reform to increase the number of female leaders – who themselves follow the game - then the general public’s attitude will adapt as well and working conditions can improve for the footballers.

Nikki Parsons

Nikki is a British-American expat living in Barcelona for the past five years. Currently developing Match the Bar, a B2B sports bar app to be launched in Spain in 2018.

Living in Catalonia, Nikki supports Barcelona and Girona, but also appreciates Swansea City, Doncaster Rovers and the Chicago Fire. Until this season all these teams were in different leagues, so there hasn't been much conflict of interest yet! Always ready for a trip to Camp Nou or the Montilivi.

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