The hard-fought victory of the U.S. women’s soccer team in 2022 to achieve equal pay and benefits has catalyzed activism across the international women’s soccer scene. Corresponding pressure on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) led it to triple the prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup from $50 million to $150 million. Throughout the tournament, which runs until August 20, FIFA is also partnering with UN Women and five other UN entities in a campaign to promote gender equality and prevent discrimination and abuse. Matches from July 30 to August 3 featured “Unite for Gender Equality” messaging throughout the stadiums and across social media, and the theme for the August 15 semifinal will be “Unite to End Violence Against Women.”
These steps, however welcome, represent small moves to level a highly unequal playing field. No other teams have come close to receiving the benefits the U.S. team won in its $24 million settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation. While the U.S. team now has the same appearance fees as the men; equal travel accommodations, support staff, childcare benefits; and an equal split of World Cup bonuses and prize money, many teams continue to struggle for agreed-upon payments and resources for equipment, training, and travel. This has resulted in athletes challenging their federations through negotiations, protests, and even quitting.
The mother of one Jamaican athlete organized a crowdfunding campaign after the Jamaica Football Federation repeatedly failed to provide adequate resources to support transportation, accommodations, and compensation for the team’s pre-tournament training. Similarly, the South African women’s national team relied on a private donation from the president of the Confederation of African Football to travel to the World Cup. Better monitoring of FIFA funds is needed, as FIFA provides roughly $1.56 million to each team for tournament expenses, but these funds are often siphoned off, according to Human Rights Watch.
The women’s team of Australia, co-host of this year’s World Cup, has waged a sustained fight for equal pay and sought FIFA’s support in closing the gap. The team canceled a U.S. tour in 2015 over pay and benefit disputes, but their efforts paid off in 2019 when they won the right to equal shares of total player revenue in a four-year deal between the Football Federation Australia and the players’ union. The team has continued to highlight disparities in the lead-up to the World Cup by criticizing the gap in prize money and calling out the lack of collective bargaining rights in some participating countries.
In another high-profile case, Canada’s team staged a strike in February that Canada Soccer quickly shut down, and in protest, the team turned out in shirts emblazoned with “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.” While the team reached an interim agreement on pay equal to the men’s team, they did not get the usual send-off game, and training sessions were either shortened or canceled. They arrived at this year’s World Cup without a final agreement to cover the players’ 2023 compensation.
Nigeria’s team has been agitating for better funding since 2016, when they hosted a sit-in after not receiving allowances and bonuses for winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. In 2022, nine players boycotted training practice when their winning bonuses were not paid. Upon returning to the field, they only received partial compensation. After the Nigeria Football Federation decided to cancel bonuses due to FIFA’s new policy of providing prize money directly to the athletes, rumors flew that the team would boycott the World Cup. The Cup bonuses are awarded on a sliding scale from a baseline of $30,000 that increases depending on how far into the tournament a team advances.
Finally, the Spanish women’s national team won an agreement to receive equitable pay and a percentage of bonuses equal to the men’s team in 2022. Still, it has continued to seek influence over working conditions. Later that year, fifteen players penned a letter to protest training conditions and treatment by their coach, Jorge Vilda, but the federation ultimately sided with Vilda. In apparent retaliation, only a few who signed the letter were asked to return and play for Spain in this year’s World Cup.
Addressing the wide disparities in pay, bonuses, appearance fees, benefits, and working conditions will require actions and agreements at the national and international levels. The growing visibility of the disparities, budding international solidarity, and the increasingly lucrative appeal of women’s soccer—and women’s sports in general—critically bolster this progress. With a projected audience of some two billion people worldwide for this year’s World Cup, women’s soccer is gaining critical mass. If the national soccer federations do not respond to the growing calls for support of their women’s national teams, FIFA should step up to champion the campaign for equality they have embraced this year.