Gender equality in football - how much does FIFA “value” the women’s game?Angela Collins
The moment you’ve waited for your whole life has arrived. The hard work and monumental sacrifices you made along the way to fulfil your dream of becoming a professional football player culminate into a perfect moment of relief and elation in the knowledge that you are now a world champion. What’s gone unseen to the 50,000 fans inside Stade de Lyon, who are now in the throes of celebration following your remarkable achievement, are the relentless hours of training, the injuries you incurred along the way which, at times, seemed insurmountable, and the mental strain you suffered during those moments when you considered walking away from the game you so desperately love because it could not provide you with an adequate livelihood.
Despite the overwhelming sense of joy and satisfaction you feel right at that moment when your team lifts the World Cup trophy, you can’t help but find it devastatingly unfair that the worth of your team’s achievement is not equally valued by the sport’s governing body to the same extent as the team that claimed the trophy in 2018 (who, ironically, are from the country in which you now stand). And this is not because you and your teammates haven’t dedicated your lives to the game in the same way, or because you’ve worked or trained at a lesser intensity; but overwhelmingly because you are female.
In June 2019, over 500 professional female footballers will congregate in France to compete for the ultimate prize – the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. As the pinnacle event in women’s sport, and one that has unparalleled global reach, there has never been a more opportune time for FIFA to bridge the gap between the men and women’s game and further leverage the empowerment of women and the societal benefits of football.
Within this context, the author would like to discuss the issue of equal pay. On 27 October 2018, the FIFA Council revised the quantum of prize money which would be awarded to the 24 Member Associations participating at the women’s tournament. Ostensibly, the reforms seem progressive: the overall financial contribution to the 24 teams was increased to USD 50 million – over triple the amount paid in the 2015 edition (USD 15 million). This includes doubling the prize money from USD 15 million to USD 30 million. However, the author will argue that the reforms are in fact regressive in the fight for gender equality and, moreover, that the decision was a failure by FIFA to respect and fulfil its statutory commitments to gender equality.
DISCRIMINATION UNDER THE FIFA STATUTES
In 2016, amendments to the FIFA Statues were approved by the FIFA Congress to enshrine gender equity, women’s football and human rights within the organisation’s governance framework. In particular, the amendments:
expand the objectives under Article 2 which obligate FIFA to “use its efforts to ensure that the game of football is available to and resourced for all who wish to participate, regardless of gender or age”, and “promote the development of women’s football and the full participation of women at all levels of football governance”;1 and
confer, pursuant to Article 4, a strict and unambiguous prohibition of discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of their gender.2 FIFA’s obligation in this respect is further embedded within its 2017 Human Rights Policy, whereby, in striving to create a discrimination-free environment within its organisation and throughout all of its activities, it “is committed to addressing discrimination in all its forms as described in article 4 of its Statutes” and “places particular emphasis on identifying and addressing differential impacts based on gender and on promoting gender equality …”3
In view of such statutory obligations imposed on the governing body, it is the author’s view that FIFA, through the determination of its Council to ratify a financial package for the 2019 Women’s World Cup that is flagrantly disproportionate to that which is afforded to the men’s tournament, has failed to adhere to its express obligations.
The prize money for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia increased by USD 42 million to a total of USD 400 million. In addition, FIFA contributed an amount of USD 48 million to participating Member Associations for preparation costs and allocated USD 209 million to the Club Benefit Program.4 Accordingly, the difference in prize money uplift between the men’s and women’s World Cups has extended by USD 27 million or, put another way, the total prize money for the women’s tournament equates to a meagre 10% of what was recouped by their male counterparts.5 The disparity in payments is further exacerbated by the fact that the USD 11.52 million contribution by FIFA to assist the participating teams in preparing for France is 32% of what was paid for the men’s teams in Russia.6 In respect of the latter, the costs associated with, and incurred by, Member Associations in preparing their World Cup playing squads are no different between each gender. As such, in the author’s view, it could only be implied that such a consequential disparity stems from a view that elite female players do not require the same level of preparation as the male players, or worse, that they are seemingly less deserving.
FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, in response to correspondence from the player unions in Australia, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand regarding the inequality of the endorsed financial package, publicly stated that “maybe one day women’s football will generate more than men’s football.”7 In the author’s view, this commonplace argument which aims to justify the lack of commercial parity in the women’s game does not alleviate FIFA’s requirement to adhere to its own Statutes, particularly in the context of the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender. What the Statutes do not say is that discrimination is permitted if the commercial return for the women’s game does not match that of the men’s. In this context, it is incumbent upon FIFA to allocate its significant financial revenue and resources in a manner which would see it meet its obligations to gender equality. In the author’s view, for an organisation that in 2017 surpassed its budgeted revenue by USD 120 million and, at the end of that year, held total assets worth USD 4,417 million, an argument based ostensibly on commerciality rings hollow.8
THE STATE OF PLAY
Whilst World Cup prize money is paid to each participating Member Association, and not directly to the players, it is the predominant means by which both male and female players are remunerated for their appearances at the respective tournaments.
In Australia, both the male and female national team players have collectively bargained for the same percentage share of the prize money each group receives. Despite the equivalent nature of the revenue sharing arrangement, what each group of players receive is completely inequitable. For example, if the Australian women’s national team win the World Cup this coming June, they will receive approximately half of what the Australian men’s national team earned for qualifying for Russia in 2018.
In 2016, Professional Footballers Australia found through a survey of players participating in the Australian senior women’s national competition (in which almost all of Australia’s national team players take part), that 90% of respondents would consider leaving the game early to pursue more financially rewarding career options.9 Unfortunately, these troubling findings about the state of the women’s game are mirrored at the global level. The 2017 FIFPro Global Employment Report on the working conditions in professional women’s football confirmed that 49.5% of female players received no remuneration from their club.10 Of the players who do receive income (60% of whom receive a net figure of between $1 and $600 per month), 13% cited the national team as the source. Accordingly, it is clear that female players rely far more heavily on their national team income than male players, making the discriminatory nature of the disparate prize money all the more egregious.
FIFA espoused in its strategic document, FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future, that “Football’s 30 million female players deserve more from FIFA, which will work diligently to further develop women’s football with the same tenacity it has applied to its other efforts to grow the game.”11 The organisation further stated that its Women’s Football Strategy will empower FIFA to “take further concrete steps to address the historic shortfalls in resources and representation, while advocating for a global stand against gender discrimination through playing football.”12 Whilst such ambition from FIFA is welcome, there remains significant doubt as to whether it is illusory, given the first opportunity the organisation had to demonstrate its “tenacity” only serves to widen the historical resourcing shortfall.
In a global context, where one professional male player can earn more in one year than the professional female players in the top seven leagues combined,13 the equitable distribution of prize money for major tournaments is critical to ensure female players have a viable career path. This is particularly so in the context of FIFA meeting its statutory objectives to promote and develop women’s football, free of discrimination, or its strategic objective to double the number of female players to 60 million by the opening whistle of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.14 Based on the inadequate working conditions for female players and the widening of the gender pay gap driven by an inequitable distribution of World Cup prize money, the latter objective appears ambitious if at all possible.
THE CONTINUING FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
In the author’s view, the morality of the issue is simple; players, regardless of their gender, who participate in their respective World Cup competitions should be equally remunerated and be afforded the same working conditions. FIFA has made an express commitment to:
“At every opportunity… send a clear message that discrimination is not to be tolerated in any form. Discrimination is incompatible with the very essence of sport and the universal values inherent to it.”15
Unfortunately, in the author’s view, FIFA has abrogated the opportunity for global leadership to demonstrate that women, and women’s football, matter and have acted contrary to both its rhetoric and its statutory obligations in so doing. There is precedent to FIFA’s failure to embrace gender equity. Prior to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 84 players from 13 different countries filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal following the decision that the tournament would be played on artificial pitches, rather than on natural grass like the men’s tournament.16 This lawsuit, which was ultimately withdrawn, highlighted the ongoing inequitable and arbitrary standards applied to women’s football, but, in the words of United States striker Abby Wambach, “… the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields … marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.”17
The legal issues are more complex to navigate than the morality, but in the author’s view in the context of the express obligations conferred on FIFA by its own Statutes, there is a compelling argument that the FIFA Council’s decision constitutes discriminatory conduct and only serves to widen the gender pay gap between the elite male and female professional players. The accountability of FIFA for acting contrary to its Statutes remains a pivotal question. In the absence of FIFA itself taking the necessary measures to ensure equality across the women’s and men’s games, or its Member Associations acting on the statutory non-compliance, it may be up to the players to assert their fundamental rights to hold FIFA accountable and to seek an effective remedy. As the past seemingly dictates, “it is those who fight against discrimination and for equality who end up on the right side of history.”18
This work was written for and first published on LawInSport.com (unless otherwise stated) and the copyright is owned by LawInSport Ltd. Permission to make digital or hard copies of this work (or part, or abstracts, of it) for personal use provided copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage, and provided that all copies bear this notice and full citation on the first page (which should include the URL, company name (LawInSport), article title, author name, date of the publication and date of use) of any copies made. Copyright for components of this work owned by parties other than LawInSport must be honoured.
- Tags: Discriminations | Equality | FIFA | FIFA Statues | FIFA World Cup | Football | Professional Footballers Australia
- A comprehensive guide for sports bodies on tackling discrimination
- The employment status and rights of funded athletes in the UK
- US Sports Law Year in Review (2017/18) – Part 9 - Gender equality and civil rights
- The admission of transgender athletes to competition: The case of Hannah Mouncey
About the Author
General Counsel, Professional Footballers Australia
Angela has held the role of General Counsel at Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) since 2014. Prior to joining the PFA, she spent 12 months working at International Player Relations where she was mentored by PFA Co-Founder Brendan Schwab. A graduate of Melbourne University’s Sports Law program, Angela has extensive experience in representing professional footballers in contract negotiations, employment-related disputes (in particular, through the FIFA DRC and CAS) and collective bargaining.