A Giant Step Forward for Women in Australian Soccer

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who are dedicated to pursuing truth within their countries and elsewhere.

Editor’s note: The sport usually known as soccer in the United States and Canada is called football, or association football, in many other countries. In Australia, the term “soccer” is usually used, but the country’s governing soccer body and players union use the word “football” in their names.

Chants of “equal pay” echoed around the world last summer as the United States women’s soccer team beat the Netherlands to capture the 2019 World Cup. Leading up to that competition, the U.S. team had fueled the fire by filing a gender discrimination suit against its own federation. The team cited discrepancies in pay, resources and working conditions.

The U.S. case continues to wind through the court system, but other countries already have made strides toward pay equity. In Norway, the men’s soccer team took a pay cut in 2017, resulting in a significant increase in the base pay of the women’s team; in New Zealand, women receive an equal share of daily payments during training camps. Late in 2019, Australia took the lead with a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement. That deal not only established equal working conditions for the national men’s and women’s teams — the Socceroos and the Matildas — but it also created equal revenue sharing, a world first in the sport of soccer.

Unfortunately, even in Australia, women’s soccer teams haven’t achieved true pay equity. The amount of prize money earned by players in international tournaments continues to be much higher for men than women, and FIFA — which determines the amount — has come under fire for keeping that system in place.

Revenue Sharing and More

Four months after the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup, headlines exclaimed that Australia had closed the pay gap between its men’s and women’s national soccer teams. To say that the Matildas had achieved equal pay had a nice ring, but because of the wide disparity in prize money, equal pay wasn’t actually achieved. In many other ways, though, Australia took a giant step forward with its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between soccer’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA), and the players union, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).

Australia’s national men’s and women’s teams have agreed to pool all revenue generated by both teams in areas such as broadcasting, sponsorship, merchandising and match-day proceeds. The Matildas and Socceroos take an equal percentage of that money, with an additional portion allocated to youth national teams. This change results in an enormous increase — more than 90% — in guaranteed minimum payments for the Matildas over the course of the four-year CBA.

The deal amounts to an investment by the Socceroos, because the men’s team will share in the success of the women’s ever-growing brand, according to Kate Gill, deputy chief executive of the PFA and a former Matilda. Speaking just after the deal was announced, she told The Saturday Paper that the Matildas brand was “going gangbusters” in Australia.

“This deal means they will share in each other’s success,” Gill said. “The term male champions for change gets thrown around a lot, but [by committing to this deal], the Socceroos truly are.”

This looks like a smart move: Despite a history of chronically being under-resourced, undervalued and under-reported by the media, the Matildas currently rank as Australia’s most loved sporting team, according to a public survey that measures the emotional connection fans have with various teams.

“Beyond it just being the right thing [for the Socceroos to do] … we were able to show them how the Matildas brand has been tracking, how hard they’ve been working, the sort of money, interest and eyeballs they can generate,” said John Didulica, chief executive of the PFA. The players union encouraged the Socceroos to help the Matildas because the revenue-sharing model would produce positive outcomes for both teams.

“We shouldn’t shy away from using self-interest as a powerful tool to drive progressive equality,” Didulica said. “If people see things as in their interest, they’re happy to invest. And to be fair, [the CBA negotiation] was such a straightforward discussion, they (the Socceroos) got it straight away, and it came from a legitimately positive place to begin with.”

Beyond revenue sharing, the deal also guarantees the right of Australia’s national women’s team to equity when it comes to travel arrangements, coaching and other resources that affect high performance. This rectifies longstanding differences in standards afforded to the Socceroos and the Matildas — for example, the men have traveled to matches in business class while the Matildas have flown economy.

‘Stronger Together’

Didulica said multiple elements put this agreement a step ahead of the agreements reached in other countries. For instance, in Norway the men’s team agreed to take a pay cut for the benefit of their women’s team, but no revenue sharing is involved. Gill said that the Australian deal also means the Socceroos will take an initial hit to their earnings, but that revenue sharing between the men’s and women’s teams enables growth for both brands into the future.

“You need to be able to differentiate between regressive equality and progressive equality,” Didulica said. “Progressive equality actually improves the situation for both parties by implementing gender equality. That’s what we aspired to in our deal — it was never about reducing the entitlements of the Socceroos to allow the Matildas to catch up. In terms of the financial component it was always about the idea that we’re ‘stronger together.’ We’re worth a lot more and can generate a lot more together than the brands can standing alone. That’s what I think is unique [about the Australian deal].”

Many Socceroos players have come out publicly in support of the agreement, including then-team captain Mark Milligan, who went to France and watched the Matildas compete at the last women’s World Cup.

When the CBA was announced in November, Milligan said at a press conference that it was “clear” how much the women’s game had grown over the last few years — and that the Matildas’ success on the field spoke for itself.

“I’d only really heard and read about the successes they were having, and to be able to go across and witness it first hand was extraordinary,” Milligan said. “The timing for me probably couldn’t have been better, because it really drove home how important it was during these negotiations that they got what they deserved.”

For Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams, the Socceroos’ willingness to agree to a revenue-sharing model went “above and beyond” the Matildas’ expectations. She said the team has already started to see the effects of the agreement.

Although the Matildas’ 2020 Olympic qualifying matches against China, Taiwan and Thailand were eventually moved to Sydney, the Matildas had been planning to play those events in Nanjing, China.

“Going to China, we [had] a chef coming along and a masseuse, which is really important when you’re going into tournament mode,” Williams said. “In the past [whether we had these kind of resources] would … depend on the tournament. Just to have that happening already after the CBA, it’s a bonus, because we already know what’s going to happen, rather than being surprised [one way or another]. It’s basic standards now.

“It’s amazing for us that we now have equal rights and opportunities. It gives us a bit of confidence knowing there’s support for us throughout the whole federation and from the men as well. … The PFA have done an amazing job.”

The Prize-Money Problem

However, Williams says the terms of the CBA will not amount to equal pay until prize money is equalized in international competition. Under the conditions of the four-year deal, the Matildas and Socceroos are guaranteed the same share of any prize money earned (40% if they enter an international tournament, and 50% if they make the knockout stages of the tournament).

The problem is that men and women compete for vastly different sums of money on the world stage, so in reality their earnings are starkly different. For instance, in the Asian Cup men compete for a pool of $US14.8 million, but no prize money is allocated for the women’s tournament. Earning more international prize money is particularly important to the Matildas. Men’s teams earn most of their wages playing in clubs at the national level, but women’s teams earn much less at that level.

In the prize-money arena, Australia’s players union also is at the forefront of the battleground for gender equity. During the 2019 World Cup, the PFA ran a campaign for World Cup pay equality between men and women. Called Our Goal is Now, the campaign emphasized that while FIFA had doubled prize money for the 2019 event, it had also increased the men’s prize money pool by 12%. That meant the pay gap between men and women actually increased. In the 2014-2015 season, the men’s prize money was $US343 million more than the women’s. In 2018-2019, that gap increased to $US370 million.

From an Australian perspective, this disparity stung. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Socceroos failed to win a game but took home $US8 million. Meanwhile, the Matildas made just $US1 million by advancing to the knockout stages in France. So while the Australian CBA ensures that the two teams take home the same percentage of their respective prize money, this does not amount to “equal pay.”

In June 2019, Gill told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that FIFA had ignored a request from the PFA and players’ associations in Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark to discuss prize money. Instead, FIFA announced its own changes to the prize pool.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has implied that prize-money disparity exists because of the difference in revenue generated by the men’s and women’s tournament.

However, others dispute this point. Appearing on Fox Sports before the women’s 2019 World Cup, Didulica said that FIFA’s allocation of prize money to the men’s and women’s teams is not based on any such calculation.

“The obvious reaction to [the pay disparity] is that it is all based on commercial metrics, but that’s not how FIFA have been calculating the amounts of prize money,” Didulica said.

“For the most part, it’s an opaque political process where an arbitrary figure is allocated to the tournament. What we [at the PFA] are after is greater transparency, greater accountability and for FIFA to use the World Cup as an opportunity to genuinely invest in women’s football.”

Support From the Ground Up

Australian advocates for equity in women’s soccer say additional financial support is critical for players at the club level as well as at the top tier of the sport.

“[The lack of equality in prize money] is a really important point,” Williams said. “It would be amazing to get equality of prize money. But maybe it has to be a flow-on effect, with national teams and clubs [both] stepping up to ensure equality for women. Just look at Europe — the national teams invested heavily in their local competitions and then seven of the eight quarter finalists at France were European teams.”

Italy is a good example of a country whose women’s soccer team blossomed internationally after women’s soccer clubs were upgraded. Italy hadn’t qualified for the women’s FIFA World Cup for 20 years when, in 2019, its team was able to compete — and defeated Australia in the first round. Analysts attribute this achievement to the fact that in 2018 Italian soccer clubs were required to grant membership to a quota of women athletes. A wide range of improved resources followed, opening more pathways for women soccer players at all levels. National interest in women’s soccer competition soared, as well.

According to Williams, the Australian CBA — while influential for those women playing at a national level — must be followed by advances at local club and league level. “There are only a few examples [worldwide] where the players’ main source of revenue comes from the national team,” she said. “A lot of the [players] have to make money through the clubs.”

When women are paid adequately at the club level, it enables them to focus professionally on soccer. Girls and women are more limited “in the clubs and countries they can go to play in and earn a decent amount, so there has to be initiative to make it more professional,” Williams said. “Otherwise soccer stays a hobby for us.”

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