By Samuel Nwite
Her deadly left foot glued the ball like it’s never going to let go, then she dazzled through the defense line with uncommon ease, sending the defenders away with misleading leg-overs. She curled the ball far beyond the fully stretched Goalkeeper, and the net and fans rose in applause. “What an incredible display” cried the commentator, “Marta has done it again, and Brazil is on their way to the round of 16.”
That was one of the scenes in the 2019 women’s world cup in Germany. Skillful and spectacular displays in every of the matches show that women have proved themselves worthy in the round leather game. But a lot is still lacking compared to their male counterparts, one of those is “equal pay.”
About 3 months before the world cup, precisely on International Women’s Day on March 8, the 28 members of the US Women Soccer Team, (USWNT) filed a lawsuit against the U.S Soccer Federation, accusing it of gender discrimination. Every U.S female player earns 38 cent for every dollar a male earns, and that is considered pay discrimination. The USWNT has been on top of their game since the beginning of Female World Cup in 1991, and has since won the tournament 3 times. The male team has been underperforming for a long time, and shows no sign of upping their game even when they are better paid. When the female team won their opening game at the ongoing 2019, women world cup, against Thailand, 13-0, it fueled the debate that fans, journalists and lawmakers advocated for equal pay in their favor. But it didn’t impress the U.S President, Donald Trump to the point of equal pay. He only tweeted; “we will talk about it later.”
The USWNT is not the only team on this table, it’s a position that every female football (soccer in U.S.) team in the world is familiar with, even though some of them are doing better than their male counterparts, and they have come to accept it. Not even the advocates of gender equality have been able to throw stones into the wide gap. These are the reasons.
Football is a fan-based sports that depends on crowd to generate fund. Talk about match attendance, TV viewership, and kit sales. The more the numbers the richer the game. And until recently, it was considered male’s sports. The first world cup took place in 1930, in Uruguay, and has been on the feet of the masculine gender for 61 years, before the feminine ones marched into the fields and kicked the ball for their own kind. But before then, there have been men football clubs established to enable professional football career, some dating back to late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was on these years of its evolution that the male’s dominance of the game was established.
Although the table is turning, there is still about 100 years gap to bridge, and that equals billions of dollars that will make up the equal pay. The pace is slow, and there is male preference to contend with. The adept among men, bestowed with magical skills and attractive charisma pull the crowd with ease. When Cristiano Ronaldo was unveiled by Real Madrid, in 2009, 75, 000 fans attended his unveiling. Diego Maradona took the second place in 1984, when he was presented as a Napoli player, and 65’ 000 fans came out to give him the Italian warm welcome. And so was the case when Barcelona signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ in 2010, there were 60, 000 fans at Camp Nou to tell him “benvingut.”
These were cases of individual players, put them together and the crowd leaps. Whereas the highest number of fans in a female football event was 60, 739, who watched Barcelona female team beat their Atletico Madrid opponent in Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Spain. This number was historic because it broke the record of the 53, 000 at Goodison park in England, when Dick Kerr’s Ladies played St Helen’s Ladies in 1920. The hope that the number was going to increase was dashed on December 5, 1921, when the English FA effectively banned female football, saying that the game is unsuitable for women. The ban which lasted for 50 years played a major role in the gap we see today. But that’s not all.
The kit deal is the most lucrative sponsorship that a football club can get. For instance, Manchester United receives 75 million pounds from Adidas per year, Chelsea receives an initial 60 million pounds from Nike per year, and so do so many other clubs from so many other brands. The brands depend on the clubs to sell kits, and the clubs make it happen through their stars who are widely idolized by fans who proudly associate themselves with everything the footballers do. The same can’t be said of female footballers. Marta Vieira da Silva, mentioned earlier has won the Fifa world player of the year five times, the same record Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are currently holding. And she currently plays for Orlando Pride in America’s National Women’s Soccer League. Although she is considered one of the greatest female football players of all time, you hardly can see a fan donning her shirt compared to her male counterparts.
When the news that women will only earn $4 million in the ongoing tournament in France got out, it stirred outrage. Just in 2018, the French National men’s team pocketed $38 million for winning the world cup in Russia. Do a subtraction and the men got $34 million and the women get nothing- a gap wide enough to justify the outrage. And it’s not getting better. The total prize money for the women’s World Cup in France is $30 million compared to the $440 million for the men’s world cup in Qatar 2022. The gap is ridiculously widening, and this is the reason.
The 2015 women world cup generated about $73 million, and the players took 13% of it, compared to the 2018, men’s world cup that brought in about $6billion, and the players took less than 7% of the $400 million player’s money. So women are actually earning more than men by percentage, and less by the revenue that their sports activities bring in. And in the game of football, men still pull the plug. Just as it is in the porn industry, where women earn more than men. This is because women pull the crowd who bring in the money. It’s a simple economics, that’s how Donald Trump described it in an interview with thehill, he said: “I think a lot of it has to do with the economics. I mean who draws more, where is the money coming in. I know that when you have the great stars like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and some of these stars… that get paid a lot of money, but they draw hundreds of thousands of people.” And he is right.
According to Fifa, there was a record 3.572 billion people who watched the 2018 world cup. That’s about half of the world population. Whereas the women’s world cup is only commanding 433 million views, hoping to hit the one billion record. TV commercials count on the numbers too and so do TV rights.
So bridging the pay gap depends, not on the number of goals, matches or tournaments won by the female teams but by these business factors that have kept the beautiful game going for ages. It has to happen in all sports, not just football.