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Equal pay in football is one thing, but fair prize money is much harder to achieve

After the stunning success of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, continued calls for equal pay rang loudly across the globe.

The tournament took the women’s game into the stratosphere. Broadcast wise, the numbers were astonishing, stadium attendance was superb and the football played impressive. The growth in women’s football at the elite level has a momentum unparalleled by any other global sport and the process of guiding the game through that growth is an important one that must be overseen astutely.

Australia’s national women’s team, the Matildas, will play a key role in the short term future of football, as one of the top ten nations in the female game. With a significant portion of the national squad now plying their trade in the FA Women’s Super League in the UK, their personal development as footballers appears limitless.

The Super League has attracted the best of the best from around the world and appears likely to become similar to the EPL in terms of the quality of play and the financial remuneration available to players.

It is that financial remuneration that has been a hot topic in recent days, with news surfacing the England’s FA have been paying the exact same amount in match fees and bonuses to its men’s and women’s teams since January 2020. The Brazilian Football Confederation has confirmed that a similar parity has been occurring since March and the ground breaking collective bargaining agreement announced in November 2019, saw Australia’s elite female players earn true equity in pay and conditions.

That agreement saw Matilda salaries increase to around A$100,000, in line with their male counterparts, whilst also increasing their share of revenue generated from national team play.

No doubt, more and more countries around the globe will follow suit in the short to medium term and by the time the world gathers in Australia and New Zealand in 2023 for the next edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it is highly likely that true pay equality will be universally in existence for all the squads competing.

Sadly for the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) the road to financial parity has been a less than simple and uncontroversial one. A March 2019 court proceeding seeking US$100 million was tossed from the court room by a federal judge, citing the team’s original decision to reject the payment structure adopted by the men’s team and their subsequent dissatisfaction with that choice.

Taking legal action retroactively once the error of their way became clear was frowned upon by the judge, yet claims that the medical treatment and travel support offered to the squad were inadequate, will indeed see the USWNT have their day in court in the near future.

No doubt the USWNT’s situation will be resolved in due course and wages and conditions set in line with those provided for the men’s team, however the best female players in the world will still be well behind males when it comes to the potential financial windfall they can take from the game they love.

At the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the USWNT received $4 million for its victory. Each participating team was given $750,000 for playing in the group stage, with bonus funds due the further a nation progressed through the tournament. Overall, FIFA allocated $30 million to the event, a smallish figure when compared to the $400 million paid to the teams participating at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

National federations receive the funds and dole out the money as they see fit and this is where the next discussion around the reimbursement of female players will lie. Whilst the Matildas are pleased with their negotiated 30 per cent share of prize money, such an agreement does not exist for most women’s national teams.

Some might argue that if FIFA’s total investment in the Women’s World Cup was around seven per cent of the $400 million spent on the men’s tournament, then the share of prize money allocated to female participants should be at around the same rate.

However, FIFA makes little distinction between the two tournaments, claiming revenue cannot be split among all FIFA events, as broadcast and corporate arrangements are agreed to as a complete package. Thus, a discussion around the value of the women who play the game at the highest level and the share of the purse they should earn will be the next step in the path to true pay equality.

Australia has pioneered that path and will look to lead the rest of the world when it comes to ensuring that the current and future generation of Matildas is compensated fairly; not only via salaries and match payments, but also through the allocation of prize money awarded for the entertainment they provide and any success they have on the pitch.

 

 

 

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What does record Asian qualification for Qatar 2022 mean for the region?

Socceroos

For the first time in World Cup history, a tournament will play host to a record six teams from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The achievement follows on from Russia 2018, where the previous record was set by the five Asian teams (Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia) who qualified for that year’s tournament.

On a surface level it appears that the qualification of six teams to Qatar 2022 wholly reflects the region’s growing stature within world football. However when viewed in the context that Qatar is obviously assured a spot as hosts and that Australia’s result on penalties against Peru glosses over what was undoubtedly a campaign dominated by pragmatic thinking over possible effective utilisation, one must ponder the impact Asian teams as a whole will have on the tournament, particularly when looking at past editions.

According to Soccerment, an analytics platform focusing on accelerating the adoption of data analytics by a wider audience of football fans, Asian teams struggled most with shot accuracy (15% against a 29% tournament average) in Russia four years ago. In addition, it appeared Asian teams valued long balls the most of any continent in the tournament as well as hitting a collective average top speed of 27.7 – the lowest at the tournament that year.

Japan v Belgium

Of course, one has to comparatively look at the squad composition, subsequent utilisation and ultimate effectiveness of these five sides versus the teams in their respective groups. Furthermore, the flaws and generational situation of their opponents and the consequential effect has to be taken into account (exemplified best by South Korea toppling a regressing Germany). It is fair to even potentially play down Japan’s progression to the Round of 16 due to accruing fewer yellow cards than Senegal, but as a whole, teams from Asia fared far better in 2018 than in 2014 where they accumulated a total three points out of a possible 36 between four teams in the group stage (Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia). By contrast in 2018 Asian teams secured 15 from of a potential 45 points, an 18% increase in points amassed.

Furthermore, viewing the Russia 2018 results through the context of where these teams are at ahead of Qatar 2022 is arguably ignoring the impact of the changes that have been made since. Of the six teams to have qualified only one side have retained the same coach across qualification campaigns, this being the tournament hosts Qatar, who have kept Félix Sánchez ever since his taking over of the side when they were last in their qualifying group for Russia 2018 and gone on to win the 2019 Asian Cup on home soil.

The current ‘big six’ of Asia have qualified for the tournament, and perhaps it is just reward for Asian football’s increased investment into the sport over the past few decades. In saying that, a set of countries’ ambitious development efforts does not necessarily reflect a whole region’s shared emphasis. For some nations, the development, alignment and tailoring of resources serves as a challenge they’re unwilling to take – irrespective of the passionate and parochial fan base of some club teams. When one looks at Indonesian side Persib Bandung’s nearly 20 million total followers across social media platforms and impressive crowd numbers matching the likes of mammoth Iranian sides like Tractor S.C, it feels like more could be done to improve the country’s international standing.

AFC

In terms of top-tier active support for domestic Asian leagues, the infrastructural foundations need to be laid outside of the likes of South Korea and especially Japan, where for example J-League sides select youth players from age 11, a factor which has hugely contributed to their consistent youth production line.

Often the determinative factor of a region’s influence on football is the number of names plying their trade in top-level overseas – mainly European leagues. And by this measurement, Asian football is at an all-time high with representatives from across the continent making a name for themselves at the top level of the game. When considering that 92% of the teams that reached the quarter-finals in the last three editions of the FIFA World Cup were from Europe and South America, it will be interesting to see if an Asian team pushes beyond the Round of 16 with the greater base of players based in Europe especially.

From the 2026 World Cup onwards, an increase from four to eight direct slots alongside an extra spot via the intercontinental playoffs affords Asian teams a greater chance to shine on the world stage. It is more likely than that the jointly hosted 2026 edition will provide greater evidence of Asia’s elevated levels of competitiveness when facing far better developed footballing nations.

The reality is we simply do not know how the Asian confederation’s representatives will fare until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar plays out. But nonetheless, the strides being taken by sections of the AFC region to improve their infrastructure and to foster a distinct identity will have massive long-term benefits in a manner quite possibly akin to Japan in terms of youth development. Time, as always, will tell.

APL announce extended Liberty A-League season and 12th team for 2023/24

APL

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have today announced that the Liberty A-League Women’s competition will become a 12-team competition, with a full home and away schedule of 22 rounds by the 2023-24 season.

This investment brings the professional game in Australia in line with global standards for match minutes, and is part of a broader strategy to ensure a lasting legacy for the game following the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023TM.

Western United will officially join in season 2022-23 for a 20-round competition, and Central Coast Mariners have been given a provisional licence by APL and, subject to FA Board approval, will become the 12th team for 2023-24, taking the league to 22 rounds and a total of 132 matches.

A-Leagues CEO Danny Townsend said via press release:

“In the 18-months since we have been running the professional game in Australia, we will increase the number of regular season matches from 70 to 132, finally bringing Australia in line with global benchmarks and ensuring more opportunities for women to play at the highest level and for girls to benefit from the role models and expanded professional pathways this investment creates.”

“We are just 12-months out from the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and we want to make sure that every girl and woman in Australia has the opportunity to build and grow a lasting relationship with football, the country’s most participated in sport.”

The changes to the Liberty A-League follow close consultation with players and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and will lead to the minimum salary in the competition increasing by more than 50% over the next two years.

Kate Gill, Co-Chief Executive of PFA, said via press release:

“Today represents a significant step forward for women’s football in Australia that not only brings to life the players’ vision for a full home and away competition, but indicates the APL’s intent and belief in growing the women’s game.”

“Thanks to the genuine partnership with the APL, the players have played a central role in helping to design a competition that delivers meaningful employment, a professional career path and a strong and sustainable league that will develop the next generation of Australian talent.”

Liberty Chief Executive Officer James Boyle added the expansion of the Liberty A-League competition was welcome news that Liberty was proud to celebrate as naming rights sponsor.

“We’re passionate about championing women in sport and the growth of the Liberty A-League helps to elevate the profile of women’s football. The more women role models in the professional sporting arena, such as the A-Leagues, the richer the opportunities for future generations. APL shares our pioneering spirit and culture of diversity as it continues to take strides towards creating a more inclusive sport. We are proud to share with the A-Leagues our passion – and action – for fostering gender equality on and off the field.”

Chief Operating Officer of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Jane Fernandez said via press release:

“Huge congratulations to APL for this growth, and it really does follow the growth trajectory of women’s football right around the world.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity. We are heading towards Qatar, where the Socceroos have just qualified to play. Then we move towards the expanded Liberty A-League, with the Grand Final to be held right on the eve of the expanded FIFA Women’s World Cup with, for the first time, 32 teams playing in the competition.

“The benefits and the opportunities are huge, and it’s not just for the players, there are benefits also for those who want to volunteer, to coach and to be leaders in our game.”

This is the second expansion announcement in twelve months, following the addition of Wellington Phoenix’s women’s team in 2021. APL also signed an historic 5-year CBA last year, and launched the Club Championship trophy, designed to encourage better fan engagement with women’s football.

The expanded and extended 2022/23 Liberty A-League season kicks off on 18th November 2022 and all matches will be broadcast live on Network 10 and Paramount+, the Australian home of football.

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