Sports Opinion

Equal pay battle

November 13 - 19, 2019

Gulf Weekly Stan Szecowka
By Stan Szecowka

Gulf Weekly Equal pay battle

Ah pay day! Whether it is weekly, monthly, bonus-based, commission or by whatever other means, it’s a nice day and a nice feeling.

Your payment is a token of appreciation for the work that you do. Some feel they should be paid more, some are looking for parity with others and some are absolutely stealing a living (step forward Andy Gray and Richard Keys).

Ever since the Women’s World Cup a few months ago there has been a lot of talk around the equality of pay between male and female international footballers. Megan Rapinoe has been extremely vocal in her belief that there is sexism rife within the US soccer federations as well as FIFA itself and that the women need to be receiving a much higher amount for their on-field exploits.

On that theme, last week a historic deal was struck between the Australian soccer governing body and the players union, a four-year agreement which will see all incomes from both the male and the female games put into one pot and then distributed evenly among all players. How far away is the rest of the world from true pay equality? What does that equality look like and on a scale of Hope Solo to Frank De Boer just where do people stand?

Of course, this is not the first time the pay of female footballers has been questioned. In 2016, the Nigerian Women’s national team staged a sit-in protest in their hotel following their African Cup of Nations triumph. Their issue was slightly different to equality of pay in that they hadn’t been paid at all. They were due in total just under $24,000 and that included nearly $7,000 which they were due to receive before the tournament had even begun to cover travel and accommodation costs. Amazingly, the Nigerian Football Federation seemed to have totally forgotten that incident and decided to try and pull the same stunt again at this year’s World Cup, only for the Nigerian team to threaten the exact same sit-in protest before a deal was agreed and both sides went on their way. I can only imagine the hotel staff at the next tournament will be extremely sceptical if the NFF secretary requests the late check-out.

There is, more aptly, the case of Ada Hegerberg who has decided against playing for Norway since 2017 due to the differences in pay between men and women and the difference in opportunity. Having scored a hat-trick in the Champions League final, won the first women’s Ballon D’or and boasting an absolutely outrageous record of having scored 240 times in 269 appearances, it is a huge blow for Norway that the best player in the sport comes from there but will not don the jersey.

In my opinion, in terms of pay by federations, there is little to no reason why they can’t be equal. So long as the travelling and other associated costs are covered within the fees received, the additional money on top is at the mercy of the football governing bodies. There is no need for this to be a huge amount. It is not as if every player is having their club wages heavily subsidised when they go on international duty. It’s a top up. The Australian deal makes perfect sense. Advertisement and sponsorship chiefly comes as a package anyway. Men’s and women’s national teams wear the same kits, drink from the same water bottles and can be used by the same advertisers.

The argument in pay does fall down slightly when it comes to tournament prize money, however, despite what Hope Solo would like. It’s almost impossible at this time to consider a pure equality of pay. In the last men’s World Cup, there was a prize pot of $400m. The women’s was a mere $30m in comparison. On the face of it, that seems like it is grossly unfair. It is essentially a parallel stage for male and females so you would think that the prize would be much closer. When you take into account however, that the viewership for this year’s women’s edition was by far the highest it has ever been, ending at around 1.12 billion across the tournament according to FIFA, it was about the same as the viewing for just the final of the 2018 men’s edition. I am not going to sit here and clear FIFA’s name entirely of sexism. They aren’t exactly an exemplary bunch when it comes to progressive views and ideas, but it is pretty simple to say that sponsors and advertisers are going to pay a whole lot more to broadcast to a bigger audience, advertising to 10 people versus advertising to 1,000 will never be the same price.

Personally, I feel the answer lies in Ada Hegerbergs second point; difference in opportunity. In the UK there is a crisis for pitches. Women’s football was banned between 1921 and 1971 so even though it is the fastest growing participation sport they are playing a huge catch up to establish clubs at the same level as the men’s. Men’s teams have their own pitches or can afford to block bock pitches for long periods and still be sustainable. Potentially football federations cannot ensure equal pay to the top level of players at the moment but they can definitely ensure the same amount of funding at grassroots. With equity, I believe, will come equality over time but the money needs to be levelled at the foundations first and foremost.

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