Even at the best of times, being a woman working in football is tough. But this week has forced me to ask the question: do I really want to work in an industry that so brazenly disregards and devalues women?
In the last five days or so, the world of football has been shaken to its core as a result of numerous high-profile sexual assault allegations and incidents of misogyny.
Spanish side Rayo Vallecano defended its decision to hire disgraced coach Carlos Santisco despite being aware of a leaked recording, in which he encouraged staff to find a girl to gang-rape to help with team bonding. Santisco is in charge of the Madrid side’s women’s team.
Scottish side Raith Rovers lost the sponsorship of renowned author Val McDermid after signing David Goodwillie. The striker was ruled to be a rapist and ordered to pay damages in a civil case just five years ago. Raith Rovers highlighted the player’s track record as a “proven goalscorer” when defending their signing, also stating “first and foremost” their decision was a “football related” one.
Mason Greenwood is currently suspended after allegations of rape and threats to kill came to light in footage shared on social media. These ugly incidents – alleged or otherwise – of blatant misogyny do not happen in isolation of one another. The disrespect football – and society at large – has had towards women for far too long enables such predatory behaviour to occur.
Football has fostered an environment that is so sexist at its core, women are seen as commodities rather than people. Their needs have always been secondary to men's. Even recent discussion surrounding FA Cup prize pots is an example of this.
December’s postponed Women’s FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea marked the competition’s 50th anniversary, and 100 years since the FA banned women’s football in England. Such a big milestone in football history called for an even bigger performance – and although Emma Hayes’ Chelsea did not disappoint – the £25,000 in prize money did.
The Blues’ winnings equated to just 1.4% of the men’s £1.8 million FA Cup prize pot. In fact, the teams competing in the first round of the men’s competition earn £22,629 – only £2,371 less than what Chelsea were awarded for being crowned champions. The gap is laughable, and isn’t in any way a reflection of the talent on display or the growth shown in women’s football in recent years. It is, however, a fairly accurate reflection of archaic ideals that still influence societal perceptions of female athletes. And is one of the many examples of sexism that runs deep in football – epitomised in a recent TalkSport discussion between presenters Simon Jordan and Shebahn Aherne.
Aherne argued that prize money for the women’s competition should be increased to £1.2 million, explaining that the competition’s £25,000 winnings ought to be multiplied by 50 to reflect the ban on women’s football. The act would be considered “reparations” for the discriminatory ban. Jordan not only vehemently disagreed with the suggestion but belittled it – and Aherne – by calling the point “silly”. The former Crystal Palace chairman stated: “It (the FA’s ban) is not relevant to where we are now. So what you’re asking for is reparations. So let’s make reparations across the world. Every time someone was in slavery, we’ll make reparations for that. It’s not about reparations, it’s about the here and now.”
Firstly, Jordan’s unjust decision to bring slavery into the conversation is not only representative of his privilege, but is deeply offensive to millions who’ve had their lives blighted by one of history’s most traumatic and long-lasting events. His flippancy also shows a lack of engagement – and respect – for the topic at hand. As does his use of the term “silly” when speaking to a female sports journalist. Language indicative of an environment that’s remained ‘pale, stale and male’ for too long.
The presenter’s determination to also separate the “here and now” is not only implausible, it's impossible. “So, we automatically assume that the quality of the women’s game would have brought out the same commercial broadcasting deals as the Premier League, in European football and in world football?” No. But what we can safely assume is, the £24 million broadcasting deal between the BBC and Sky Sports could have come about sooner if a ban spanning several decades hadn’t been implemented. Perhaps those who are reluctant to engage with the notion of a reparation payment do so because the act itself symbolises an apology. More than that, an admission of guilt.
To his credit, Jordan wasn’t completely against the prospect of an increased prize pot, but like many, seemed to imply there’s a level of acceptance involved when ‘granting’ women access to more money.
It’s ‘okay’ for women to be paid more for carrying out the same job as men, but they can’t be paid anywhere near the same amount as their male counterparts. We’ll accept progress, but only so much of it.
Systemic sexism has hindered women working in football for far too long. And in the case of FA Cup prize money, there is no reason at all why female players and clubs shouldn’t be paid more. They certainly shouldn’t be paying to play the so-called ‘beautiful game’.
Back in December, seventh tier side Clapton CFC travelled to Devon to play Plymouth Argyle in the third round of the Women’s FA Cup. They were the lowest ranked side in competition history to reach that stage of the tournament – but were only set to earn £1,250 if they won. An amount that didn’t even cover transport or accommodation costs. “We won £2,900 in prize money through four hard-fought, record breaking wins” explains Clapton centre-back Annie Lyons. “We had to spend £3,000 just to get to the match against Plymouth. With no financial backing from the FA, we’ve had to ask our incredible fans to pay out of their own pockets to help get us there. It shouldn’t be that way. It made it even more galling to find out that, if we were a men’s team we’d have won £65,629 by that stage.”
Crowdfunding brings a whole new meaning to the ‘People’s Cup’, but when the total prize pot for the Women’s FA Cup currently stands at £309,000 to be shared between 300 teams – compared to £15.9 million shared between 735 teams in the men’s competition – you can understand why clubs are forced to take matters into their own hands. But it just shouldn’t be happening when the demand for women’s football is there.
Hayes’ third Women’s FA Cup victory in December took place in front of a Wembley crowd totalling 41,000. A further 1.5 million people tuned in at home to watch the historic match. The attendance and viewing figures alone were enough to dispel the idea that prize money should remain as it stands. Those who argue ‘bums in seats’ should directly correlate to prize money should think again too. The winners of last year’s FA Vase, which amassed just 6,000 fans at Wembley, took home £47,875. Almost double Chelsea’s FA Cup winnings. So why are women paid so little in comparison?
Since 2019, Barclays’ sponsorship of the Women’s Super League has increased from £6 million every three years to £15 million. FIFA reported that the women’s transfer market expenditure had increased from $1.2 million in 2020 to $2.1 million last year. Next year’s Women’s World Cup will see the competition’s biggest prize pot yet – $60 million. Still only a fraction of the men’s $440 million winnings, but double the amount awarded back in 2019. This year’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup is the first time in twenty years the competition will award prize money for participants. The main sponsor for the Danish women’s league – Gjensidige – has committed another three years’ worth of investment to strengthen women’s football in Denmark. Countless countries are recognising that there’s not only profit to be made in women’s football, but the time for making sure sport is more equal is long overdue.
Since last weekend’s FA Cup fixtures, The FA have released the following statement: “The FA Board has agreed a significant increase in prize money to support the competition’s continued development.” Citing no specific amount for what a “significant increase” might look like. Even if The FA were to quadruple the current amount on offer it wouldn't even ‘touch the sides’ of what male players are awarded. Mounting pressure from coaches, players, fans and organisations like the Women’s Football Fan Collective have quite clearly turned The FA’s hand into making a decision.
Fifty years without funding, resources and infrastructure means the women’s game is still far behind where it should be. Today, those who are involved in women’s football are asking for investment that represents the game’s worth. All in an attempt to level the playing field after decades of fighting an uphill battle.
Just this week, The FA and Professional Footballers’ Association announced changes to female player contracts in regards to maternity and long-term sickness. Up until this point, maternity cover has been granted at the discretion of clubs, and women have had to choose between a career as a professional athlete or motherhood. Not a single player in the Lionesses’ squad is a mum. Yet more than half of Gareth Southgate’s squad during the Euros were dads.
Perhaps one of the most obvious indicators that football is an institution created by and for men was Sam Kerr’s recent encounter with a pitch invader. The Chelsea striker was booked for barging a ‘fan’ to the ground last December during a Champions League fixture at Kingsmeadow. Despite pitch invasion being an arrestable offence under the 1991 Football (Offences) Act, the invader wasn’t arrested by the Met Police because women’s games aren’t classified as ‘designated matches’ under the current law. Laws are created to protect the public, not put them at risk. Unless you’re a woman.
For those who think that prize money, the right to parent or be protected by the same laws that govern men’s football aren’t examples of systemic misogyny, then open your eyes.
For years, some of the game’s biggest and most powerful clubs have protected male players when committing the most heinous acts against women. At what point does the phrase, "his career is over" become secondary to "her life has been destroyed". The gradual degrading of women in football has fostered a culture of misogyny. One where women are quite literally put at risk financially, psychologically and physically at the hands of men.
In continuing to restrict the growth of women’s football and the roles women occupy in the sport, it only reinforces a system built on the exclusion and devaluation of women. Enough is enough. Football is a game for all, and 50% of the population cannot be ignored – and harmed – because of unjust and ‘unspoken’ rules dictated by a few.