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Why women's football has a money problem

Women footballers around the world are underpaid, and sometimes not paid at all. While World Cup teams are also suffering from neglect, there may be some hope

South Korea's Hong Hye-ji fights for the ball with Haiti's Batcheba Louis.
South Korea's Hong Hye-ji fights for the ball with Haiti's Batcheba Louis. (AFP)

As the Women's World Cup approached, Jamaican players started to panic. They were uncertain about training camps, accommodations and even pay heading into what for many would be the biggest tournament of their careers. So they took to social media. A number of the Reggae Girlz, as they are affectionately known, went public with their concerns, pleading with the Jamaican Football Federation to address “subpar” conditions.

The mother of one player took it a step further: She started a GoFundMe page to raise money to make sure the team and the support staff is provided what they need to be successful — such as adequate hotels and compensation. “These girls deserve better. They have proven themselves on an international platform that they belong. And they need support, whether it's from parents, friends, or fans, to let them know that we see what they've accomplished, and we're proud of them,” said organizer Sandra Phillips-Brower, the mother of midfielder Havana Solaun.

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The World Cup always draws attention to the inequities between men’s and women’s soccer. But it also highlights the inequity within the women’s game itself. Teams like the United States and England, with greater support from their federations, enjoy the best that money can buy: Things like sports psychologists, massage therapists and team chefs.

Other teams, like Jamaica and South Africa, are uncertain they'll even get paid. So they're using social media and collective action to draw attention to their plight. “All the teams are using their voices a lot more. We know these things because players are talking about it,” U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe said. “Even when they're subjected to the discrimination and unequal treatment, they're still speaking out. They're still using their voice. That's really important.”

The Reggae Girlz felt compelled to speak out at a time when their attention should be solely focused on competing in the World Cup. “On multiple occasions, we have sat down with the federation to respectfully express concerns resulting from subpar planning, transportation, accommodations, training conditions, compensation communication, nutrition, and accessibility to proper resources,” players said in a post on social media. “We have also showed up repeatedly without receiving contractually agreed upon compensation. We were told that all out requests and concerns would be resolved in a timely manner.”

The GoFundMe site has raised more than $45,000, and Phillips-Brower was figuring out how to distribute the funds to best serve the players and staff. The Jamaican Football Federation did not respond to emails seeking comment.

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Jamaica hasn't gone as far as South Africa's women, who boycotted a preparation match against Botswana near Johannesburg. Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, the president of the South African Football Players Union, said the incident was partly caused by poor pay for the players.

“They are fighting for their rights,” Gaoshubelwe said in a video posted on his union’s Twitter account. “SAFA doesn’t want to include money in their contracts. We must fight for the rights of these players.” A foundation set up by African soccer president and billionaire businessman Patrice Motsepe responded by creating a fund to be shared by the players.

Haiti, making its World Cup debut, has no sponsors as the country reels amid political disarray and poverty. The team's training centre was closed because of the threat of a local gang. The teams' supporters donate equipment.

Even Canada is in a dispute with its federation over pay. Players say they weren't paid in 2022 — which included qualifying — until an interim funding agreement with Canada Soccer was reached in March. The team headed off to Australia without a funding agreement in place.

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FIFPRO, the global players union, backed an effort by players from across the globe who urged FIFA to increase prize money, equalize accommodations and other conditions enjoyed by players at the men's World Cup, and compensate players directly for participation.

FIFA agreed, doubling preparation funds for the teams, increasing prize money by nearly 300% and guaranteeing that every player at the event will be paid at least $30,000, and more based on performance.

FIFPRO said it is working closely with FIFA to make sure those funds indeed go to the players, addressing concerns that the money could be pocketed by federations.

Despite the disparity between teams, there are success stories. Costa Rica’s women took a stand, successfully securing a contract last year that defined bonuses, allowances, travel and other basic needs – modeled off of the men’s agreement with the federation. The deal is the first of its kind in Latin America.

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“A lot of federations now are slowly getting into the trend of being better. Because now you see a lot of girls in those countries have been professional athletes, so they have an idea of what it means to be a professional athlete. And when they go back to the respective national teams, they are able to also help and say `Hey, we need this, we need that, it helps us because we have it in our teams,'" said South Africa forward Thembi Kgatlana, who plays for Racing Louisville in the National Women's Soccer League.

“It kind of forces the national teams to also adapt into the trends of changing and becoming better, and creating a better environment for players to perform at their highest level,” she added.

Rapinoe also struck a hopeful note. “It doesn't have to be like this,” Rapinoe said. “These are just choices that people are making, so that's frustrating. But I do think it‘s getting better. I do think conditions are improving. There’s a lot more resources that these teams can tap into to continue to push forward."

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