It is time for female footballers to be treated as equals

Suzanne Wrack on 13 March 2018

International Women’s Day saw clubs putting their women’s teams front and centre. There were powerful messages from players and moving videos from the Football Association about different journeys taken into the national game. Manchester City even went as far as changing their Twitter handle to Womanchester City for the day – joining other organisations across the city.

And it is right that, on such an important day for women globally, those invested in women’s football promote both the game and those who have fought over the years for the right to play. Because if you look beyond the newest generation of players, every woman that has laced up boots in the past century has done so against a backdrop of hostility.

Although equality in sport may seem trivial alongside the wider issues faced by women in society, how women view themselves, how they move and how they interact with their bodies says much about their position in, and relationship to, society. That is why it is no accident that in the Commons IWD debate both sides referenced sport in their wider discussion on equality, and in particular a need for greater equality for female footballers as the game develops. Because fit, confident, healthy, empowered women who have reaped the rewards of team sport are proven to do better in workplace teams, in boardrooms and will challenge things.

The growth of women’s football in England in recent years is to be applauded but there is still a mountain to climb if it is going to claw back to the height it reached before the FA’s 50-year ban in 1921.

And it is clear that although there are plenty of good initiatives, from school to adulthood, football – and society – is not doing enough to engage women with sport and transform attitudes.

Because even those at the top of the game still find that being a professional is a struggle. Last December a FifPro survey of women footballers revealed that 88% of Women’s Super League players earn less than £18,000 per year and that 58% have considered quitting for financial reasons. There are huge resources within football and yet a majority of top professional women footballers are paid less than the top Fifa eSports players – the top 10 earning an average of £55,911 in 2017 – despite women’s football providing the biggest pound-for-pound return on FA investment.

As the England Lionesses returned from their most successful finish at the SheBelieves Cup in the United States, new manager Phil Neville outed the fact that the team have to fly economy outside of major tournaments. It is a decision now under review. But it is a position that should never have existed. FA chief executive Martin Glenn makes much noise about it being not for profit and “for all”, yet its travel arrangements for the national women’s and men’s teams shows a more successful women’s team being treated as second best, in this case for no discernible reason other than financial.

The same scenarios crop up time and again in the women’s domestic game. The Continental Cup final between Arsenal and Manchester City is taking place at 7pm on Wednesday at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park. It’s hard to envisage such an anti-social set-up for a cup final in the men’s game. Yet this is not the flagship Women’s FA Cup, and heaven forbid we aim to make every major women’s final a showpiece event.

Money holds the power in football. It’s the elephant in the room for growth in the game. Until those in charge of women’s football are willing to challenge the power and financial muscle of the Premier League, TV rights deals and wealthy club owners and stand up against the idea that football should be run for profit instead of serving the communities they grew from, then pushes towards equality will get only so far and women’s football will have to continue surviving off crumbs from the table.

So although we can and should celebrate the gains being made, it is important to remember how empowering sport and football can be, and why those looking to cling on to the status quo fear the rise of active, empowered, sport-playing women.

Talking points

• Germany have parted company with head coach Steffi Jones. Horst Hrubesch will take over on an interim basis for April’s games against the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

Steffi Jones has lost her job as Germany’s head coach.
Steffi Jones has lost her job as Germany’s head coach. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

FifPro has announced its women’s world XI for 2017. Lyon’s Lucy Bronze is the first England player to be included in the list and Chelsea’s Hedvig Lindahl was named best goalkeeper. The surprise omission was Sam Kerr, who became the NWSL’s all-time leading goalscorer as she scored more than any other player in a season and has led the line for an impressive Australia team.

• The Football Writers’ Association has announced the appointment of a panel to select a Women’s Player of the Year for the first time. The panel includes England internationals Rachel Brown-Finnis and Alex Scott and the winner will be announced at the awards dinner on 10 May.

• Liverpool defender Amy Turner will miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery to remove loose cartilage. Turner joined from Notts County following the club’s collapse and has made five appearances.

• Sheffield United have submitted a bid to play in the newly named women’s Championship (second tier) from next season. Tier two will be semi-professional and admittance would see the Blades jump two divisions and play at the same level as their men’s side are this season.

• England have been drawn alongside holders North Korea, Mexico and Brazil in Group B of this summer’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup. Hosts France will play Ghana, New Zealand and the Netherlands in Group A. Full draw here.

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