The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 kicked off this week in Canada, the opening games have been a showcase for world football. Standout results so far have included an epic 3-3 draw between Sweden and Nigeria and Germany’s 10-0 demolition of the Ivory Coast. So far the tournament is proving to be a great advertisement for women’s soccer.
It is a great travesty that the Women’s World Cup is being overshadowed in the media by the daily revelations regarding corruption in FIFA and the allegations of bribery involved in the bidding process for the 2010 World Cup bid.
The World Cup and the ongoing investigation stand in stark contrast to each other. On one hand you have the International Women’s teams providing a shining example of how the game of soccer should be played and juxtaposed against them is a collection of wealthy, elderly men who have brought the game into disrepute.
In a male dominated organisation, the fiasco in FIFA begs the question; would this level of corruption have happened if a woman was in charge? Maybe that’s unfair but within FIFA there are only two female football association presidents out of the 209 member countries, and no woman has ever led the governing body. It’s a damning assessment of an organisation that purports to be dedicated to the improvement of the game. Sepp Blatter’s idea of improving the women’s game was his suggestion that the women should wear tighter kits in an effort to boost its popularity.
This type of rhetoric and lack of diversity not only demonstrates an organisation that is out of control but it highlights the gender inequalities in soccer as a whole.
Take for example England’s most capped female player; Fara Williams, she was homeless for six years while playing at international level. Just stop and think about that for a moment, would an elite male soccer player have found themselves in those circumstances? The answer is absolutely not. What is even more frustrating is that Williams felt that she had to hide this from her team mates. Estranged from her mother, following a family breakdown, Williams had to come up the hard way, unlike so many young male footballers.
Unlike their male counterparts, female soccer players do not receive extraordinary financial remuneration. Fara Williams is paid £20,000 a year from the Central Contract fund, for her services to the England Team. The Central Contract Fund was set up in 2009 which provides financial support, enabling England’s ladies to work three days a week to accommodate their training in order to maintain the fitness for playing for England. Williams also plays for Liverpool, the average player in the Women’s Super League (WSL) is semi-professional and has the potential with their base salary from the FA of £21,012 plus endorsements to earn up to £50,000 a year. In contrast up until recently Williams’ male counterpart at Liverpool; Steven Gerrard earned £180,000 a week ( nearly 200 times more…). What does that tell aspiring young women about the value of women’s soccer? Why do female footballers have to work harder to compete at world level?
True, the women’s game does not generate the same level of revenue as the men’s game, but don’t be fooled into thinking the women’s game is lagging behind. In November 2014, a friendly between England and Germany women sold 55,000 tickets in Wembley, outselling the men for the first time. It may not be in the same league as Premiership or International men’s football, but its popularity is growing.
The pay issue may not be the responsibility of FIFA but in a week where a film about the organisation with a reported budget of between £21-£32 million, flopped spectacularly at the box office you have to question if the decision to invest that amount into what is essentially a vanity project rather than a major tournament like the Women’s World Cup which is a much better global advertisement for the sport. The corruption in FIFA demonstrates it is an organisation no longer fit for purpose.
In an ideal world FIFA would be exerting its power to influence football associations and clubs to address the gender pay gap more effectively. The gender pay gap is not an issue exclusive to soccer but it would be a great opportunity for FIFA to reject the sexist rhetoric of Blatter’s reign and take the opportunity to restore some level of belief from the public that it can still do its job.