Gender equality in football has fallen far behind other sectors of society

Photo: Matthew Wilkinson/Flickr

Photo: Matthew Wilkinson/Flickr.


By Mads A. Wickstrøm
A recent study of working conditions in women’s football shows that female footballers do not enjoy the same rights as workers in other sectors.

Around the world, women’s football is currently enjoying consistent growth. The number of female football players have been increasing and pursuing a career as a professional footballer is starting to become a viable option for women. However, although progress is being made in the women’s game, stable and secure jobs remain rare, and major challenges persist, concludes a recent report published by the World Players’ Union, FIFPro.

“This report comes at a critical moment. It aims to better understand the needs of professional female football players, and to give space to the voices of a silent majority. Women players know what it means to be treated as side-lined elite footballers,” writes Theo van Seggelen, FIFPro General Secretary, and Caroline Jonsson, chair of the FIFPro Women’s Football Committee, in the introduction to the report.

The report is based on a survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester, of 3,500 female footballers playing at an elite level. The surveyed footballers play for their national team or in the first division of a national football league including some of the most developed leagues in England, France, Germany, Sweden and the USA.

Findings show that professional female players are not always recognised as such by football stakeholders – or even by themselves. Accordingly, they are not given the appropriate rights and protections, and don’t usually ask for them either. Nearly 44 percent women footballers describe themselves as amateurs while only 24 percent described themselves as professionals. 

Lack of financial incentives among reasons for early retirement

Another significant finding revealed that 90 percent of respondents identified at least one reason why they would consider leaving the game early.

A lack of financial incentives to stay, wanting to pursue career opportunities outside of football, and a desire to start a family dominated the reasons players gave for considering leaving the game early, according to the report.

Nearly half of respondents are not being paid by their club. In addition, most female players who are paid receive low wages. Six out of ten players are paid $1 (€0.83) - $600 (€500) a month and 37 percent of all respondents have experienced delayed payments of salaries.

“Players should, like all employees, feel valued and secure in their workplace. They should have adequate rest, be well cared for by medical staff, and expect protection against discrimination from fans, clubs and federations. They also need support with childcare and maternity leave so that they are not forced to make unfair choices about their careers,” notes Van Seggelen and Jonsson.

“The findings contained in this report confirm that much work still needs to be done to ensure female players are given the same rights as other workers. We believe this data can be a turning point for women’s football, and a platform for FIFPro to pursue future negotiations with football's leading authorities,” they add.

Universal declaration of players rights

The FIFPro Global Employment Report on working conditions in professional women’s football was published shortly after the world’s leading player associations unveiled the Universal Declaration of Player Rights a few weeks before Christmas.

The Declaration is designed to protect players from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. It is the first comprehensive articulation of athletes’ rights, and sets a benchmark for international sporting organisations to meet their obligations to protect, respect and guarantee the fundamental rights of players, according to a press release issued by the World Players Association last month.

A number of principles is set out in the Declaration including, but not limited to:

  • Every player is entitled to equality of opportunity in the pursuit of sport without distinction of any kind and free of discrimination, harassment and violence.
  • Every player has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Every player has the right to share fairly in the economic activity and wealth of his or her sport which players have helped generate, underpinned by fair and just pay and working conditions.
  • Every player is entitled to have his or her name, image and performance protected. A player’s name, image and performance may only be commercially utilised with his or her consent, voluntarily given.
  • Every player must be able to access an effective remedy when his or her human rights are not respected and upheld. This is particularly crucial given the highly skilled yet short term and precarious nature of the athletic career.

“The rule books of world sport impose thousands of pages of onerous obligations, but none clearly spell out the internationally recognised human rights of athletes”, said Brendan Schwab, Executive Director of the World Players Association. 

“The result is an unjust system of sports law that lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport. We are making it clear that athlete rights can no longer be ignored. They must be able to quickly access justice,” Schwab added.

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