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“It will be like rocket fuel”: an insight on equal pay in international women’s football

It will be like rocket fuel[1] were the stirring words used by Football Association (FA) chairperson Debbie Hewitt following England’s UEFA Women’s Championship victory back in 2022. Less than a year on from what promised to be a watershed moment for the women’s game in the UK, with the next World Cup in New Zealand and Australia just around the corner, recent stories have equal pay controversies on people’s lips once more.

Women’s domestic football continues to go from strength to strength, with the growing broadcast coverage of the Women’s Super League, not least due to the announcement of a record-breaking three-year domestic television rights deal with Sky Sports and BBC, beginning with the 2021–22 season. This article will however focus on the equal-pay debate at the international level of women’s football.

Recent developments – signs of change? 

US Soccer become the first Federation to make equal FIFA World Cup prize money awarded to the US Women’s National Team and the US Men’s National Team for participation in their respective World Cups as a result of the collective bargaining agreement reached in May 2022. To date, US Soccer remain the only federation that evenly distributes World Cup prize money between its women’s and men’s national teams – albeit maybe not for much longer, with increasing calls for FIFA to make prize money more equitable.

With the next Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia just round the corner, just this month it has been revealed that FIFPRO, the global professional football players union, sent a letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, signed by players from 25 women’s national teams calling for FIFA to introduce proposals including setting an equal framework for travel, delegation size, training venues and facilities for the Men’s and Women’s World Cups, including equal prize money. Perhaps the issue is summarised best by the following example: Argentina’s men’s team earned USD 42 million for winning the men's World Cup in Qatar in 2022, out of a prize pool of USD 440 million, whereas, the US Women's National Team won USD 4 million out of a prize pool of USD 30 million for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

Although it is now resurfacing, this is not a new debate. Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, the first ever Ballon d’Or Féminin winner, boycotted the 2019 World Cup as a protest against gender inequality. A quick scan of the recent headlines across Europe (notably in Spain and France) and in Canada and you will quickly draw parallels of challenges across footballing federations – put simply, there is a growing movement toward gender parity with regard to World Cup prize money and equal conditions. 

FIFA’s response to the pressure? Gianni Infantino, speaking after his re-election on 16th March, has promised equality in payments for the women’s and men’s World Cups by 2027. An important announcement, but how this will be achieved in practice is still to be worked out. For the 2023 tournament, a total package of USD 152 million will be on offer: three times more than at the previous Women's World Cup in France four years ago and over 10 times more than the amount offered at the 2015 tournament in Canada[2], but notably nearly three times less than the men’s World Cup in 2022.

What about the situation in the UK? 

The FA introduced parity across the women’s and men’s teams on match fees and bonuses for games outside major tournaments in January 2020. Despite this equal pay committed to by the FA, the money England’s male and female players can earn from major tournaments differs enormously because of the gender disparity in prize money offered by FIFA.

In Scotland too there is discontent. December 2022 saw some of the Scottish Women’s National Team (SWNT) bring a case in the Employment Tribunal against the Scottish Football Association (SFA) in a fight over equal pay and conditions. The SWNT players are of the opinion that there are disparities between their treatment and that of the men’s team when it comes to training facilities, hotels, travel as we all as kits and medical and nutritional resources. In the word of 139-time capped SWNT skipper Rachel Corsie:

After years of iniquity, disrespect, and in some cases abuse, we have a historic opportunity to advance equal pay and to promote equality for women and girls in football. This campaign is about parity, and we'll be seeking to engage with the Scottish Football Association, the fans, and everyone in Scotland's football community to deliver this long overdue change.”[3]

In response, the SFA was quick to reiterate its commitment to the growth of women’s football at all levels, but the debate continues.

Concluding thoughts

With the 2023 World Cup round the corner the situation remains uncertain, twisting and turning with each passing day. That said, internationally the equal pay row has been the subject of debate for some time. The December 2022 legal challenge by members of the Scottish Women’s team gives an indication of the strength of feeling of those involved.

In Scotland, both domestically and international, there is still some work to be done and there is real scope for growth. This year the curtain will come down on the inaugural 20-team domestic Scottish Women's Premier League (SWPL). In the words of Fiona McIntyre, Managing Director of the SWPL, "It is important to recognise all the hard work that has taken place to get us to this place. Scottish women's football can now look forward with confidence as a result of that hard work, and the commitment of so many people over so many years.[4] Here’s hoping such momentum continues. 

What is for sure, the headlines approaching the 2023 World Cup will be about equal pay, but for a group of talented footballers, and hugely popular female role models, this is a fight for respect.

[1]  Euro 2022 final: 'We've changed the game' - England captain Leah Williamson, BBC Sport (1 August 2022).

[2] Gianni Infantino announces significant investment increase for FIFA Women’s World Cup™ (16 March 2023).

[3] Women’s national football team brings equal pay action against SFA, Scottish Legal News (18 December 2022)

[4] Scottish Women's Premier League: 20 clubs to join inaugural league, Sky Sports (15 June 2022).


womeninsport, football, fifa, worldcup2023, sport, mse, women in sport, uk