The trolls and non-believers in women’s football will look at the headline of this piece and roll their eyes:
“Not another article about women being paid the same as men in football!”
Rest assured, this isn’t just about pay, this is about an on-going issue that exists in women’s football that involves disputes between various federations and players, who are in disagreement over much more than just money.
As someone who has followed women’s football since 2009, its clear to see the game has made huge strides since the days of empty stadiums (they still exist in some places), boggy pitches (they still exist too) and empty newspapers where you needed a microscope to find coverage (okay, that still exists in some parts too).
But, while there’s no question the game is heading in the right direction, it’s baffling that the issue of federation disputes with players continues to cast a cloud over the women’s game, with recent examples again making the headlines. One such dispute has resulted in a repeat matchup between the Netherlands and Denmark being cancelled due to a breakdown in discussions between the Danish Federation (DBU) and its players over issues such as training conditions, insurance and access to treatment.
Yes, pay does form part of the conflict, but why shouldn’t it? Football, like any other form of work, is a job. When players go to represent their country, they are working. So why shouldn’t pay to represent your country form part of the discussions? Last time I looked, players were not charity cases, and like the rest of us, have bills to pay.
But what’s most disturbing is players having to go above and beyond, putting their own international careers at risk, for federations to stand up and take notice. Denmark is just one example, where, as mentioned, players have had to pull out of a sold-out encounter with the Netherlands in a repeat of the EURO 2017 final.
Does captain Pernille Harder want to deprive herself of the opportunity to face the European Champions? Does Theresa Nielsen want to miss the opportunity to face-off against Vivianne Miedema and Lieke Martens again? Of course not. But what’s more important – one game in September? Or games next month, next year and the year after that?
This is players trying to secure their future, whether that be financially, or fighting for better facilities, whether that be on the field or in the treatment room.
We’ve seen the US Women’s National Team in the past threaten strike action that saw big media coverage as discussions with US Soccer dragged on over playing conditions – we all remember #EqualPlayEqualPay.
That wasn’t just about pay however, far from it. This was about being treated as equals to their male counterparts – whether that was playing and training on fields that are a health hazard (remember Hawaii), or travel and accommodation arrangements when on the road.
— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) December 6, 2015
The US had to battle, big time, and when a team who is littered with star names and World Cup winners has to battle, it means everyone is probably going to have to as well.
But it’s the lengths some are having to go to ensure federations are taking note. We’ll talk Denmark in a moment, but another recent situation has arisen with the Norwegian Football Federation and star player, Ada Hegerberg.
Following a disastrous European Championships in the Netherlands that saw no points and no goals, the Lyon forward announced last month that she would be “taking a break from the national team,” sighting a number of issues that went far beyond the early exit at the EUROs.
You can believe the term ‘break’ all you like, it is not. This is a player standing up for what she believes in and making a statement, essentially saying ‘until you improve things,’ I will not be available for selection.
Let us not forget, Hegerberg is 22-years-old. She is not a seasoned veteran, but even at a young age, has already realised that things are not right, and for the NFF to change things, she has essentially gone on strike.
The question is, why has a 22-year-old, playing for the best club side in the world off the back of a UEFA Best Player in Europe Award last year, had to sacrifice her international career, just so people will listen?
Norway has a huge World Cup Qualifier against EURO 2017 Champions the Netherlands on October 24th, an opportunity for the young striker to test herself against Europe’s best. As things stand, she will not be present, which not only means she will miss out on playing in front of what is sure to be a partisan crowd, but her team’s chances of getting a result, significantly lowers.
Hegerberg’s issues aren’t about money – she’s paid well at Lyon – this is about respect, about equality, about what’s right.
The Lyon forward’s stance is extreme, no question, but the Norwegian Federation has responded with an internal investigation that has given players the opportunity to speak up about the issues that exist, and now a process is in place to try and improve conditions and move things forward under coach Martin Sjogren.
Denmark’s situation is complicated, because as Katja Kragelund explains in her piece posted this week, Danish employment law is playing a part in discussions. One of the major questions arising is, are the DBU employers of their players when representing the National Team? Employers or not, when those players pull on the red shirt, they are representing their country AND their federation – surely that has to count for something?
But once again, it is likely to be the drastic action of the Danish players, who did not report for camp this week ahead of their friendly with the Netherlands, for this dispute to be resolved.
This latest episode is becoming far too common in a sport that continues to play second fiddle to its male counterparts, this despite the women’s team often bringing more success – like the US and the Netherlands.
After winning the African Cup of Nations in December last year, Nigeria players protested over “the welfare of the team” after outstanding payments and bonuses were not received.
A sit-in protest was carried out at a hotel in Abuja to highlight their frustration and dissatisfaction at the unpaid allowances, which were eventually paid by the Nigerian Football Federation almost two weeks into the protest.
Again, it must be stressed, federation disputes are not just about money – just ask the players from Ireland.
The shortcomings in the women’s game were highlighted in embarrassing fashion when the players from the Ireland National Team were left with no choice but to call their own press conference and reveal some of the unacceptable conditions they were having to adhere to.
Sharing tracksuits with boys from the Ireland youth teams was bad enough, but having to change into those tracksuits in airport toilets, was something they were not willing to tolerate any longer. “We are fighting for the future of women’s international football, this isn’t just about us,” said team captain at the time, Emma Byrne.
The players threatened to strike ahead of a friendly match at home to Slovakia if conditions were not improved, stating they were being treated like “fifth class citizens.” After a meeting with the FAI (FA Ireland) that went into the early hours of the morning a few days later, the dispute was resolved, the match played, and Ireland won 1-0.
There are other examples of player disputes, Australia for example, one of the fastest growing nations in women’s football, and one of the strong outsiders for the 2019 World Cup, have this week negotiated a deal with Football Federation Australia (FFA) for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
But back in 2015, a tour to the United States was cancelled as the Matildas went on strike, resulting in two matches against the World Champions not going ahead. At the time, The Professional Footballers Australia [PFA] chief, Adam Vivian, said the breakdown was due to three factors; “a lower than expected pay offer, lack of access to a “high performance environment” and a restriction in the Matildas “ability to grow the women’s game.”
Thankfully, this week’s announcement will mean further progression for women’s football in Australia and FFA has clearly taken note of the team’s continued improvement.
The above examples highlight just how far players are having to go to achieve a fair deal, and with it now being 2017, why is that?
The issue of equality and inclusion is forever dominating social media channels and forums, and while we’re being told that players in the women’s game are getting better treatment (they are in a lot of cases now), why are they having to put themselves in vulnerable positions to achieve a fair deal?
One former international involved in high profile federation discussions in the past, told Women’s Soccer Zone: “It can be very scary for players certainly, that is why staying unified is key.
“But I would say there is a low-key conflict throughout women’s soccer of, ‘Hey you are playing for your country, be happy for what you have, it’s a total honour.’
“And then you’re having to tell them, ‘Hey wait a minute, I have rights as a professional that need to be met and I need to be compensated appropriately’.”
A key line in that quote – “be happy for what you have.” Well why should they if they can’t make a living, or can’t access acceptable training facilities, or are not receiving the necessary treatments?
Ask any player, and they will agree with the above that it’s a huge honour to play for their country, but they are on a big enough platform now where being grateful should not be a factor in pulling on their national jersey – they’ve earned that number on their back.
UEFA is currently running a campaign promoting the equality of the game, leading with the line:
“Diversity. Inclusion. Accessibility.”
— UEFA (@UEFA) September 11, 2017
It’s a nice headline and it would be nice to think that all of the above is prevalent in women’s football, but as things stand – while the game is growing – players are having to risk their own national team careers, to try and achieve these three things.
This isn’t about money, or amazing fields, or access to better medical treatment – it’s about one thing and one thing only.
It’s about what’s fair, and the lengths players are having to go to in search of achieving this, certainly isn’t fair.