The Brazilian soccer federation’s announcement this week that it would pay its female national team players the same as their male counterparts won great applause around the globe.
But with that proclamation came the stark reality that of the 159 countries playing women’s football in FIFA, only seven have equal pay agreements in place, Canada not among them. Along with Brazil, the others are Australia, England, Fiji, Finland, New Zealand and Norway.
Pay equity in women’s sport — or society, for that matter — is not a new conversation.
The United States women’s soccer team — the four-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champions, four-time Olympic gold medallists and No. 1 team in the world — have been the ones taking the lead and keeping it in the headlines.
Their long dispute with their national federation over claims of gender discrimination and equal pay is still being played out in the American court system.
The U.S. women’s team isn’t alone. Spanish players threatened a strike in 2019 until they had a pay increase. Nigeria, after winning the African Cup of Nations in 2016, staged a protest at their hotel over outstanding payments. Recently, Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz said they won’t represent the country because of missed pay, but also to force change in women’s football in that country. Those are only a few examples.
The fight is not just at the domestic-level either.
FIFA has been taken to task about the discrepancy between prize money at their World Cups. For example, the 24 teams at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France had a pot of $30 million US in prize money. The Americans took home $4 million for winning.
Compare that to the last men’s World Cup in Russia in 2018, where the total prize money was $400 million for the 32 teams who qualified. The champions from France received $38 million.
As for here at home, the Canadian women’s soccer team, twice Olympic bronze medallists, are under a two-year deal that runs through the postponed Tokyo Olympics. While terms were not disclosed back in 2019, it covers player payments, performance and roster bonuses for competitions, image rights use, player appearances and travel and accommodation.
It also includes the continuation of Canada Soccer helping to fund the salaries of several national team players who play in the U.S.-based National Women’s Soccer League. (Outside of the Canada Soccer agreement, the team also receives $2.5 million in funding from Own The Podium ahead of Tokyo).
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Brazil’s agreement, which was brokered back in March, is particularly significant because it comes from a federation that has long underappreciated the value of women’s football. In Brazil, soccer is a religion and the names of Pele, Ronaldo and Neymar are like saints.
Marta, the six-time FIFA player of the year who guided her team to two Olympic silver medals and a World Cup final, has shone on the international stage through her own incredible talents.
In her 18 years with the national team, she’s had 11 different coaches. She’s not only had disputes over funding, training facilities, medical costs and travel, she’s had to stand up to the prejudice in her country that women don’t belong in football.
Her nickname is “Pele in skirts.” While being likened to the legendary No. 10 was meant as a compliment, she is worthy of just being Marta with no added qualifier.
So to hear their federation president Rogerio Caboclo say “there will be no more gender difference in remuneration between men and women,” is a sign of the times.
With the growth of women’s soccer, whether it’s professional leagues around the world, added teams to the World Cup come or a World Cup final watched by more than 1 billion people, the conversation about equal pay is only going to get louder.
For Brazil, this is a big step and it’s also a sign to other countries who say they value women’s sport to step up.