Women’s soccer took one small step toward equity this World Cup. But giant leaps remain | CBC News

Women’s soccer took one small step toward equity this World Cup. But giant leaps remain | CBC News

What’s a world-class soccer player worth?

If you’re a woman, about one-quarter of a man, according to world soccer governing body FIFA. And that’s still more equal than the sport has ever been.

As this year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand wraps up Sunday, observers say the small steps toward equity this time will need to pick up momentum if FIFA is to reach its stated goal of equal pay by 2026-27.

Laura Jane Robinson, a Canadian sports journalist and author, calls the pay discrepancy “appalling.”

“I think that generally people do believe on this planet that women should be treated equitably, and I hope that these numbers are going to change very quickly,” she told CBC News.

$9M for Canadian men, about $1.5M for women

A quick look at the numbers: a $152-million US fund was set by FIFA for this year’s 32-team Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, a big boost from the 24-team 2019 tourney, which had a $40-million fund.

The global players union FIFPRO also lobbied for — and won — a guarantee that some of the funds would go directly to the players.

Those are big changes, but it’s still a small fraction of the prize money pool for the men’s World Cup last year in Qatar: $440 million.

Canada’s Adriana Leon kicks the ball during the Women’s World Cup Group B soccer match between Canada and Ireland in Perth, Australia, late last month. Women at the tournament made much more than in the past, but still only a fraction of what men make at their World Cup. (Gary Day/The Associated Press)

To compare just the Canadian teams, both were knocked out early from their respective World Cups, but the men’s team received $9 million compared to $1.56 million for the women.

“The last place men’s team at the Men’s World Cup is still making more than the winning team at the Women’s World Cup,” Robinson said.

On Friday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino suggested demands for equal prize money were a “slogan” that “would not solve anything.”

“Some voices were raised, where it cost too much, we don’t make enough revenues, we will have to subsidize,” Infantino said at the FIFA Women’s Football Convention.

Earlier this year, Infantino said that the ultimate goal is equity between the men’s and women’s games by the 2026 Men’s World Cup and the 2027 women’s edition.

FIFA blames sponsorship, broadcasting money

FIFA has blamed the pay gap on low bids from sponsors and broadcasters to stream the Women’s World Cup.

Infantino attacked broadcasters on Instagram in May, saying they’d offered only between $1 million and $10 million US for the rights to the Women’s World Cup, compared to between $100 million and $200 million US for the men’s.

He called it “a slap in the face of all the great FIFA Women’s World Cup players and indeed of all women worldwide.”

But he faced international backlash for this comment, including from former FIFA council members. That’s because from 1995 until this year, FIFA offered the Women’s World Cup as a freebie: whoever won the men’s broadcasting rights would also get the women’s.

It was only after more than one billion viewers watched the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France that FIFA started taking separate bids from broadcasters to stream that tournament.

Robinson says that shows how little value FIFA has given to women’s soccer.

“I don’t think that FIFA and the national sport organizations around the world promoted women’s soccer the way that it needs to be promoted, and that includes Canada,” she told CBC News from Owen Sound, Ont.

She added later that “there’s no reason on Earth why we have to use revenue from broadcast rights to determine the worth of female athletes. That’s a social construct that FIFA has decided to use. FIFA has lots of money. Sports have lots of money. Women athletes have virtually no access to it.”

Women’s game ‘growing a lot faster’

With this tourney’s pay bump, each player stands to earn a bonus of $30,000. That’s twice the global average annual salary for a women’s soccer player, which is about $14,000.

Jacob Morris, co-ordinator of digital media and communications for AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, says that’s “life-changing” money for some of the women, but still not enough, especially considering the men make roughly $300,000 a player for qualifying.

“There’s a lot more money going into the men’s game and the women’s game is growing a lot faster,” he said. “There’s a lot more potential for growth there, and it would be great to see these amazing players get their due.”

Female soccer player pursues ball during game at Women's World Cup.
Vanessa Gilles, pictured, and her Canadian teammates didn’t survive the group stage at the Women’s World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. Canada Soccer will receive $1.56 million US from world governing body FIFA. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The fight for equal treatment in women’s soccer has also been playing out at the country level.

The U.S. Soccer Federation reached milestone agreements to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally last year, making that national governing body the first in the sport to promise both sexes matching money. The U.S. deal is unique in that it pools men’sand women’s earnings from the World Cup and splits them equally among both national teams.

Other countries that strive for equal pay include Costa Rica, Ireland, England, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, although in many cases the men will make more because FIFA’s prize money disproportionately goes to them.

‘This isn’t over’

Canada’s women’s soccer team reached an interim compensation deal with Canada Soccer last month after the World Cup had started.

The team said the agreement would provide payment for 2023, including prize money allocation from the Women’s World Cup, but that “this isn’t over.”

WATCH | Women’s soccer team reaches interim pay deal:

Women’s soccer team reaches interim pay deal but say the fight isn’t over

Canada’s women’s soccer team has reached an interim deal with Canada Soccer for compensation, including any prize money from the Women’s World Cup. But they say they’re not happy with the choices they’ve had to make and will continue to fight for a comprehensive agreement after the World Cup.

The Canadian women said the deal ensured equal pay to the men’s team “within the constraints created by Canada Soccer’s financial situation.”

The financial issues are the result of Canada Soccer’s controversial broadcast agreement with Canadian Soccer Business (CSB).

Under the terms of the deal, CSB pays Canada Soccer a set amount each year and keeps the rest, which helps fund the Canadian Premier League.

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