The Lionesses RoarWhat Next for Equality in Football?
Carrie Dunn, author of a history of women’s football, speaks to experts about gender equality in the sport – and finds that the issues within the game are found across society
Where there’s success, there’s talk of money. England’s Lionesses hadn’t even packed away their gold medals after winning UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 before the murmurs began about their salaries. After all, the men’s senior team haven’t won anything since 1966 and they get paid millions. Why shouldn’t the women get the same?
Since 2020, England’s international teams – male and female – have received a match fee from the Football Association (FA) of around £2,000. All the men donate that to charity as do some of the women.
The bonuses on offer at major tournaments, however, are somewhat different. If the women had won the World Cup in 2019, they would have got £50,000 each. Had the men won their tournament in Russia the year before, they were in line to get £217,000 each.
That’s because the FIFA prize funds – the pot put together by the governing body of world football – are different, and depend hugely on the advertising and broadcast deals each tournament has brought in.
“The resources that you put into that team will be vastly different because how much money the country stands to win is vastly different,” says Dr Alex Culvin, a former footballer who now works in player relations for Fifpro, the international players’ union.
“It’s a very simplified, straightforward way of quantifying [the pay] differences between men and women. But actually they have very different starting points.”
The Lionesses are earning decent money. They will have a central contract with the FA for their international appearances, worth about £30,000 depending on their age and their experience.
That is on top of the salary they receive from their clubs. The top tier in England, the Women’s Super League, is one of the best-paid in the world, and boasts its own broadcasting deal as well as sponsorship from Barclays. Chelsea’s Australian international Sam Kerr is thought to be on a significant salary, although there are no definite figures. It has been estimated by some to be more than £350,000 a year.
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Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema signed a new contract with her club in March, and although she didn’t give any figures, she revealed: “There have been two clubs where I could have made more money, but I think I can say that I will be the highest-paid [women’s] footballer in England. So I certainly can’t complain.”
But the average professional footballer in the Women’s Super League will earn much less than the biggest names in the women’s game. When the league first started in 2011, many players worked in second jobs to supplement their income for what was essentially a semi-professional league. Now a basic salary would start at around £20,000.
And of course that is also a striking contrast to the average male Premier League player, who Statista estimates earns around £2.5 million per year, although this salary can drop significantly if a team is relegated or a player moves to a club in a lower league.
Men do tend to play more matches, with more teams in the Premier League than in the Women’s Super League. That does not completely explain, says Dr Culvin, the disparity in wages.
“It reduces athletes and what they do to a monetary basis and the reason that is problematic is because it masks a lot of inequalities that exist as well as unequal pay,” Dr Culvin told Byline Times.
“There is no magic number of games you should play per season. The men are overworked, maybe the women are underworked… actually, we’ve got to ask the question whether playing more games, and again being able to quantify women’s value in very direct binary terms, is the way to do it.”
Change is Happening
One big leap forward came recently, with maternity rights included in women’s contracts.
It might seem obvious to ensure that women players have the right to take time off should they choose to have a baby. But the entire set-up of professional women’s football in England is still somewhat in flux.
This is the first generation of full-time professional female footballers who have progressed through talent pathways to reach the top. That means that female professional footballers are expected to fulfil different responsibilities beyond playing matches.
“Think about the emotional labour,” says Dr Culvin. “You don’t get men saying ‘our game is this weekend. Please come and watch us’. [Women] are expected to do it. It’s not in the contract and they’re not remunerated for it, and yet they are expected to carry the game on their shoulders, which men are not expected to do.”
Indeed, England captain Leah Williamson did just that in a television interview immediately after winning the European title, asking viewers to continue their support for the women’s game throughout the domestic season. It’s hard to imagine any male footballer winning any trophy – regardless of profile or level – and asking the same.
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One club which pays their semi-professional male and female players equally are Lewes FC. Its women’s team plays in the Championship, the second tier of competition. Lewes FC is committed to equality throughout the club that goes beyond finances and into structures.
“People always want to jump to the money straightaway,” club CEO Maggie Murphy told Byline Times. “And what I try to say is that it’s actually really about equal decision-making, and everything else falls in with trying to build an ethical, community-oriented, transparent, well governed football club.
“When you try to do that, then equality follows suit, and that’s why we split our pay equally, because we think it’s the right thing to do for our community and for the world.”
It is easy and understandable to be interested in players’ salaries and the disparity between men’s and women’s wages. But the experiences of Lewes FC, and the burden identified by Dr Alex Culvin, suggest that it is not necessarily helpful. When it comes to equality in football, there are bigger questions to be addressed that reach out beyond the pitch.
Expecting women to perform emotional labour, or put up with limited financial support or recognition, is hardly unusual. These issues are not just football’s, but found across society.
Carrie Dunn is the author of ‘Unsuitable For Females: The Rise Of The Lionesses And Women’s Football In England’
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