By Grant Jarvie – University of Edinburgh
Almost four years ago the Academy of Sport was invited to contribute to the then calls for reform in world soccer and support for women’s soccer. A summary of the contribution can be found here. The case for support focused upon two key themes. Firstly, that women were under-represented in decision making in world soccer and secondly that women’s football was under-resourced.
At the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup held France a panel of experts on the women’s game both domestically and internationally gathered at the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Sport to both celebrate women’s soccer and reflect upon lessons and observations on the beautiful game.
Ebru Koksal one of only two women to have been the CEO of a Champions League Football Club and current chair of women in football championed the case for being bold for change.
2019 World Cup finance and equal pay
The 2019 World Cup is the first where the clubs will be compensated for releasing their players. Another gap closed in principle. The total FIFA input of £39 million is more than three times the amount made available for Canada in 2015. The total prize fund at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was more than £300 million. Lessons need to be learned in relation to how the Women’s World Cup rights are commercialised.
England’s Toni Duggan believes that the players should be paid more but not the same as men. Most of the professional women players with the big clubs in England will be on six-figure salaries. This is more than many SPFL men players and yet equality for Duggan is as much about pitches, facilities and parity of esteem. In Europe fans are much more open to supporting the club rather than the fact that it is the men or women’s team playing. In 2019 Duggan finished her second season with Barcelona and played in front of the then league record crowd of 60,739.
The five majors
The CIES 2019 demographic analysis of five major women’s football leagues (England, Germany, Sweden, France and the USA all of whom reached the quarter finals in France) can be found here. It concluded that the economic development occurring at the top of the pyramid of women’s professional football indicates that the age of players tends to increase as international mobility grows and that the concentration of the best footballers within a limited number of clubs in the best leagues remains concentrated in these five countries.
From the players playing in France 2019 Canada is the country with the biggest contingent of expatriate players in the championship with a total of 28. Canadians are particularly numerous in the United States with the National Women’s Soccer League, the majority of Scottish women head for England while half of the expatriate American’s play in Sweden.
Challenges and opportunities
Whether it be the domestic of international front fresh winds for more equity in the beautiful game are being called for. Along with challenges come opportunities argued Ebru Koksal. The UEFA women’s football strategy talks of : Doubling the number of women and girls playing football in UEFA’s member associations to 2.5 million; Changing the perceptions of women’s football across Europe; Doubling the reach and value of the UEFA Women’s EURO and the UEFA Women’s Champions League; Improving player standards by reaching standard agreements for national team players and putting safeguarding policies in place in all 55 member associations and doubling female representation on all UEFA bodies.
Progress but challenges remain.
At the first World Cup in 1991 the gender split of the coaches was 11 (men) and 1 (woman) while in France men continued to dominate 16 to 8.
The USA ranked number one in the world going into the tournament sees US soccer involved in a lawsuit accused of gender discrimination. 28 members of the USA World Cup Soccer squad filed the lawsuit on 8 March 2019 alleging institutionalised gender discrimination that included inequitable compensation when compared to their male counterparts in the USA.
Norway entered the tournament without Ada Hegerberg , the first female Ballon d’Or winner, who stepped away from the National team in 2017 because of the perceived or otherwise lack of disregard for women’s football in Norway.
Domestically it was the first World Cup that Scotland had qualified for since 1998. The country has arguably witnessed a culture shift with taxi drivers talking excitedly about the game in a country that has no full-time professional league that women can play in.
Between 2015 and 2019 the number of registered female players in Scotland has risen to about 14,000. 6.1 million viewers watched Scotland v England. 18,555 attended the Scotland v Jamaica build up game at Hampden Park just prior to the World Cup – a record crowd for a women’s game at Hampden. The average attendance at women’s football matches in Scotland is about 1500.
Commentators on the women’s game regularly point to the fact that it is a cleaner and easier product to sell – no gambling, no alcohol sponsorship and not troubled by sectarianism.
Laura Montgomery, co-founder of Glasgow City, the most successful women’s team to date in Scotland and who according to Rachel Corsie – Scotland’s Captain has done more than anyone to advance the game for women and girls in Scotland also joined the University of Edinburgh discussion and provided a real insight into the challenge to grow and sustain the women’s game in Scotland while not compromising on the quality of input.
Significantly she asked where would the women’s game in Scotland be now if it had not been banned?
Leeann Dempster CEO of Hibernian Football Club talking about the state of the women’s game in Scotland sees it as getting stronger but that does not mean that it is strong as it should be. For the CEO key questions remain:
• How do we fund the growth of the women’s game in Scotland?
• How do we bring in the commercial rewards it deserves?
• Who takes responsibility for the women’s game in Scotland? Where does it sit? Who takes the lead?
Football, soccer remains one of the most visible areas of public life in many countries. The 50 page review of women’s football published just prior to the 2019 World Cup suggested that fresh winds of equity were blowing but that significant challenges remain- see here. Such a visible are of public life brings with it responsibilities for forging and enjoying the benefits that gender equality and diversity brings with and through soccer.