The FA has come under pressure to increase their prize money for female football teams, which is currently less than 1% of their male equivalents – arguably one of the largest gender pay gaps in any industry.
Lewes football club – the only club in the world to pay their female team the same amount as their male team – has written an open letter to the FA calling for “a radical increase in the women’s FA Cup prize fund.“
At the moment, it sits at £250,000 compared to the men’s, which totals over 30 million. Even the male teams who lose in the first two rounds of the competition receive roughly £291,000. For anyone wondering, that’s more than the total sum paid to the winning women’s teams in the whole of the FA cup.
The FA, which prides itself on its inclusive ‘For All’ ethos, has seemingly tried to combat the gender disparity within the sport in recent years, investing 18 million in a game plan for growth and setting up a separate FA women’s group. However, the fact remains that the pay gap between men and women in the football industry is one of the largest in existence today.
So why are women players being paid so much less than men?
Ask this question to a group male football fans, and the response will inevitably be the same – women’s teams are paid less because they’re less popular. Male teams attract a bigger following, bigger crowds and generate a bigger revenue.
Director of Lewes Football Club Charlie Dobres, though, argues that this is a direct result of the lack of funding given to the game.
In his letter, Dobres writes: “To drive the change in women’s football that we all want, the women’s game needs much more money. Not because of some static and universal law that women’s football attracts less attention and less revenue than men’s football, but as a result of decade upon decade of negligible resources.”
‘Negligible resources’ is putting it mildly when you consider the fact that, in 1921, the then FA banned women’s football altogether. The women’s game had been enormously popular during WWI, as women took men’s places on the football fields as well as in the factories. Matches attracted huge crowds before the sport was deemed unsuitable for women, and the ban remained in place for half a century whilst the male sport regained its popularity.
Despite these initial setbacks, women’s football continues to prove more popular than men’s. In the US, the women’s national team are far more popular – they bring in bigger crowds, smash viewing figures on televised games and win far more matches. And, in the last World Cup, the US women’s team won whilst the men’s team crashed out in the first couple of rounds.
So how is it that female players are paid less than men even when they are both more successful and more popular?
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, sports writer Anna Kesell explains that there needs to be a “cultural shift” when it comes to football, not simply an increase in funding. Here in the UK, women’s football has become increasingly popular in recent years. The BBC claimed that roughly 2.5 million viewers tuned in to watch each game in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and forecast even higher figures for the 2019 tournament this summer. If women’s football is making gains in popularity, why aren’t these gains being matched in either earnings or funding?
“Whatever way you cut the numbers, it’s kind of nuts”, says a Lewes source speaking to The Telegraph. The FA have undoubtedly made steps towards improving the gender disparity in the sport, but there’s still a long way to go before female players receive as much revenue, recognition and respect as their male counterparts.
We have to address the underlying issues surrounding gender in football, and indeed the sports industry as a whole, before we can make any real progress in narrowing the gap.