FIFPro lauds growth of women’s game but calls for support

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              FILE - In this March 13, 2020, file photo, Paraguay's U20 women's soccer team members arrive at the airport in Luque, near Asuncion, Paraguay, after the tournament being played in San Luis, Argentina was suspended. The  global players' association released its report on the state of  women's soccer, after warning that the coronavirus  outbreak could have a disastrous impact following the gains of last summer's Women's World Cup.  (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz, File)
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A report on the state of global women’s soccer lauded the growth of the game while calling for greater support for players, including better wages and industry labor standards.

Based on surveys of players worldwide, the report released Wednesday by the international players union FIFPro showed club salaries are generally rising but still don’t provide a living wage for many women.

When the top and bottom 5% are removed, average club salaries for respondents rose from about $2,350 a month in 2016 to $3,980 a month in 2018. But 3.6% said they received no salary.

In addition to low wages, players also highlighted poor working conditions, including the lack of basic support staff, subpar facilities and shoddy fields.

The release of the report, “Raising Our Game,” was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and came almost two weeks after the players’ association warned the pandemic could pose an “almost existential threat” to the women’s game. Some effects have already been seen.

On Tuesday, the AFC Fylde team in England was disbanded, the first team cut amid the financial fallout caused by the suspension of sporting events across Europe. Reading FC placed its women’s team on the government furlough plan this week, the first team in the top-tier Women’s Super League to do so.

“In many ways the crisis right now validates those gaps and those concerns and those calls for action that we had actually identified, because we’re seeing now, under the surface, the fragility on which the women’s game is still built,” FIFPro General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said on a conference call with reporters Thursday morning.

For the report, FIFPro surveyed national team players from countries represented at the Women’s World Cup in France last year and other nations: 186 players from 18 different countries responded. FIFPro also requested information and data from all 24 federations represented at the World Cup and all six FIFA confederations.

According to the report, 54% of players said their teams didn’t have adequate support staffs, and 61% said they didn’t know if their club had a defined strategy for growth for its women’s team.

The report comes amid growing calls for equitable pay in women’s soccer, led by the World Cup-winning U.S. national team. The team has sued U.S. Soccer alleging gender discrimination.

“Women’s football cannot follow in the footsteps of the men’s game nor be positioned as its little sister,” the report says. “We must learn from the challenges and opportunities we have seen develop across the football industry and use this knowledge to help lay the foundation for a sustainable global employment market built on healthy and safe working environments,” the report stated.

The women’s game had been on an upward trajectory, the report noted, boosted by investment and high-profile corporate sponsorship deals with firms including Barclay’s, Visa and Budweiser, as well as other factors.

“We see that the women’s game is proving its value to both the sport and society. The industry is growing and professionalization is underway in many regions around the world,” said Amanda Vandervort, FIFPro chief women’s football officer. ”But we need to take action and establish, implement and enforce global industry standards for working conditions and women’s football to protect the players and ensure that there is a just and stable growth of the industry into the future.”

Attendance at games has not necessarily reflected that growth. Total attendance at the World Cup fell from a high of 1,353,506 in 2015 — when the field was expanded from 16 to 24 teams — to 1,131,312 last summer in France.

The National Women’s Soccer League in the United States and the top division in France were the only major professional leagues to see a rise in attendance last year. There have also been success stories, like the match between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona last year that drew a women’s club football record of 60,739 fans.

The television audience for premier women’s events is growing. The total audience reached for the World Cup last year was 993.5 million, 1.12 billion with digital media audiences included. The audience for the final in France was up 56% over 2015. The report also pointed to new media channels fueling the visibility of the game.

However, broadcasting rights for women’s games are often sold in tandem with men’s matches, making it difficult to determine the value of the women’s game as its own product.

FIFPro called for minimum global labor standards for women’s soccer, higher tournament standards, increased collective bargaining efforts and greater attention paid to how player well-being is impacted by the competition calendar.

“My hope would be that people read the Raising Our Game report and take from it the call to action very seriously, with labor standards and opportunities to engage players in the dialog about what a just and sustainable football club looks like in the future,” Vandervort said.