While the Team USA women are fighting a legal battle against U.S. Soccer for equal pay and equal resources, many countries competing in the Women’s World Cup are fighting for any kind of pay at all. Countries like Thailand, South Africa, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Argentina are all playing soccer for virtually nothing.
Jamaica’s team is the first from the Caribbean to ever qualify for a Women’s World Cup. Singer and daughter of Bob Marley, Cedella Marley has been fundraising for the team to cover basic expenses to just get to the World Cup.
When asked by the NY Times what their families think of their professional soccer dreams, Ali Riley, a New Zealand defender summed it up, “Proud, but unsure if it is economically viable.” Daniela Pardo, a Chile midfielder has two jobs and goes to school on top of playing professional soccer.
While Team USA’s women can in some cases make about $300,000 a year playing soccer professionally, in Thailand (against whom the US notched their historic 13-0 victory) players average just about $3,490 a year. That level of inequality can affect the competition aspect of the sport, something that became even more apparent after that 13-0 smackdown. How is a country like Thailand, who’s women make less than $5,000 a year playing pro soccer, supposed to compete with a country like the United States, who’s women make in most cases six figures?
This is not to say that the legal battle that Team USA is fighting is not right. The team is much better than their male counterparts and deserve to be paid at the very least the same as the Team USA men do. But when you compare Team USA to other women’s players around the world, they are well ahead.
The total prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup is $30 million (compare that to the $400 million prize money for the 2018 men’s tournament). The winning team gets $4 million of the pie, giving each of the 23 winning players $150,000. The worst place men’s team in the 2018 tournament made $8 million, double what the women’s champions will bring in.
The remainder of that $26 million gets divided up between the other 23 participating teams, each with 23 players. If it was evenly divided between the remaining teams, that would mean each player that makes it to the Women’s World Cup but doesn’t win will get the equivalent of about $49,000. Keep in mind that in some countries, the World Cup is the only way to make any kind of sustainable income playing professional women’s soccer.
What can be done? While each country must find a way to equitably pay their female athletes and help them meet the cost of living, FIFA needs to start investing resources around the world to make women’s soccer more economically viable throughout the year, not just during the World Cup.
Earlier this month, FIFA signed an MOU with UN Women where they pledge to work towards gender equality on and off the pitch. They plan to work with international organizations, the private sector and media to make the sport “more accessible to women and girls” and they plan to share more “diverse sports content to promote gender equality”.
Per FIFA’s website, the partners agreed to focus on sports policy development, supporting sustainable projects that create a lasting legacy and empower women and girls globally, and investing in communications to raise awareness around gender equality through sport.
This is a step in the right direction for the most popular sport in the world, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Arguably the best women’s soccer player in the world, Ada Hegerberg of Norway, is sitting out this World Cup due to unequal treatment and pay. Team USA’s legal battle is one of the most talked about stories of this World Cup Tournament. These fights are admirable, but they are solving problems in first world countries, which is the tip of the iceberg.
FIFA needs to step up and work to fund women’s soccer equitable and sustainably around the world. Not only will it help the tournament get more competitive, thus bringing more eyeballs and more advertising dollars, it will also help invest in more women around the world.