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Soccer’s State of Play for Equal Pay at the 2023 Women’s World Cup

Sometimes, equal pay isn’t really equal pay. Other times, national teams are left to fend for themselves entirely. Let’s talk progress, challenges, and opportunities on the road to equity in women’s soccer.

Ashlyn Harris is no stranger to the challenges of being a professional athlete. From busy travel schedules to dealing with keyboard warriors online, the decorated goalkeeper has overcome critiques and dismissals of all kinds. So, it’s no surprise that upon her retirement last November, the 37-year-old fully shifted her focus to elevating the women’s game across the globe.

It started with her signing on as NJ/NY Gotham FC‘s Global Creative Director, a position created specifically for the two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, and has increasingly involved advocacy for better, more competitive pay for women athletes. During last week’s Boardroom x CNBC Game Plan summit in Los Angeles, the mother of two spoke on why the investment in women’s sports needs to be more direct:

“The investment has to continue because look at where women’s sports are with such little investment, what we figure out, how we squeeze things out, how we continue to rise and elevate the level,” she said. “Imagine if we had money like the men, imagine if we had charter flights like the men. Like, imagine if we had access to the same things.”

“I mean, we, 10 years ago, so now we’re just chipping away at that and it’s a process and we understand that but it’s nice now that we know people are paying attention, brands are paying attention,” Harris continued, “and this is just the start. I truly believe it. Women’s sports right now, it is the moment, and we’re not riding any type of wave — we’re just delivering and people finally now see the upside in it.”

The two-time World Cup winner makes a compelling point. Women in sports have long been overlooked for basic benefits and privileges compared to their male counterparts, and even as the global athletic community makes positive strides here, they don’t come without stern challenges in the present and future.

Take for example the compensation conversation around this year’s World Cup. Early in June, FIFA announced that it would pay those competing this summer in Australia and New Zealand at least $30,000 each, with the 23 athletes representing the title-winning team receiving $270,000 apiece. Even if players representing teams that fail to advance to the knockout rounds are guaranteed to pocket a bonus that may very well exceed the annual salary figures many receive at the club level.

Fast-forwarding six weeks to July 18, it already appeared that FIFA had either retracted its promise or never coordinated on this with individual national federations at all. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at a press conference that he could not ensure that federations would disburse these payments promised to participants. If we’re understanding this correctly, FIFA promised cash bonuses to competitors but declined the responsibility to ensure they would be paid out as promised, instead leaving it up to each national team organization.

Amid significant skepticism, Infantino has assured nevertheless that the process is “moving in the right direction” and that he expects the situation to be resolved.

“We have issued these recommendations, but we have an association of associations,” he said. “So, whatever payments we do, we will go through the associations and then the associations will, of course, make the relevant payments to their own players. We are in touch with all the associations.”

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Whether all this ends up being the case or not, it’s still indicative of a lack of consideration, care, and support for female athletes — even those who represent their nations on the biggest stage of the world’s most popular sport. Disbursing prize money directly to players, which is what effectively all credulous observers imagined FIFA would be doing, acts as insurance for pros who do not have standing contractual agreements with their federations regarding pay structure.

On average, the global annual salary for women’s soccer players is around $14,000, according to Fortune. For many of the players who will exit the World Cup in the group stage, even that $30,000 figure could amount to the largest single paycheck of their careers.

Ahead of the tournament, the players representing co-hosts Australia created a video highlighting the injustices of the ongoing worldwide pay disparity, explaining the long, challenging road to achieving an equality milestone with their male counterparts — outside of the FIFA bonus checks they’re eligible to cash from playing in a World Cup, however.

In a spirited, sincere call to action, the Matildas additionally encouraged wealthy figures in Australia to support the growth and development of A-League Women, the nation’s top-flight women’s club league, so its athletes would no longer need to work part-time jobs.

Simply paying women soccer players what they’re due is just the minimum. Jamaica, which became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women’s World Cup in 2019, did not receive any participation money from the Jamaican Football Federation for their services four years ago. This year, The Reggae Girlz relied on a GoFundMe created by midfielder Havana Solaun’s mother to help subsidize their trip Down Under. Tied at the back of the pack with +43000 odds to hoist the trophy, many expected the No. 43-ranked team in the world to lose all three of its group stage matches as they did in 2019. Instead, the women of Jamaica are on their way to the Round of 16 after a 0-0 draw on Wednesday against Brazil, a powerhouse side with an outside shot to win it all.

Following a 1-0 win against Panama on Saturday, Angel City FC center back and Jamaica women’s national team star Allyson Swaby said it best, putting FIFA and the rest of the women’s sports cynics on notice:

“The message that we want to send has always been the same: that women’s football is legitimate. We’re here to compete. This is our livelihood. It’s the thing that brings us joy, it’s our passion. That’s really the message, this is the ultimate honor for us and we’re also going to be fighting and pushing to be treated like we feel that we should.”

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.