The gender pay gap continues to loom large over the Women’s World Cup.
Soccer players at the 2023 Women’s World Cup will on average earn just 25 cents for every dollar earned by men at their World Cup last year, a new CNN analysis found.
Still, that is an improvement: last time, in 2019, it was less than eight cents per dollar, according to data provided by world governing body FIFA and global players’ union FIFPRO.
The gender pay gap will be very much alive and kicking at a tournament which begins on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
FIFA announced in June that, for the first time, about $49 million of the record $110 million Women’s World Cup prize money would go directly to individual players — at least $30,000 each for participating and $270,000 to each player on the winning squad.
The rest of the pot is going to be split between participating federations who will decide what share of this money to allocate to teams and players – if any at all. In addition to prize money, FIFA committed to paying $42 million to the federations and players’ clubs for Women’s World Cup preparations.
When asked for comment, soccer’s world governing body referred CNN to what FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in March when the organization announced details of the prize money on offer at this year’s tournament.
At the time, he said FIFA was embarking on a “historic journey for women’s football and for equality,” adding that the aim was equality in payments for the men’s and women’s World Cups in 2026 and 2027 respectively.
With its estimated worldwide audience of more than one billion viewers, the Women’s World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events on the planet.
Yet, this year’s edition kicks off in Australia and New Zealand with the sport at somewhat of an inflection point, not least because of the disparity between what women players are paid in comparison to their male counterparts.
Players such as Australia’s Sam Kerr, as well as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan of the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) are celebrated as household names, while England’s Lionesses adorn billboards across the country.
The popularity of the sport is undoubtedly growing, but from Jamaica to Canada, South Africa to Spain, several teams arrive at this tournament having been locked in disputes with their federations.
Despite the huge progress made in recent years, the fight for respect and equity – or sometimes to even be paid at all – continues.
When Jamaica’s Havana Solaun threaded the ball into the net against Australia four years ago, she was mobbed by her teammates as they celebrated the first Women’s World Cup goal in their nation’s history.
Having overcome almost every conceivable obstacle – the team disbanded in 2016 before an unlikely heroine, Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella, came to the rescue – here they were competing at the pinnacle of the sport.
Havana Solaun (R) and Jamaica are appearing at their second ever Women’s World Cup.
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
Two months later, the players still hadn’t been paid by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). Eventually, they were – but four years on and history is beginning to repeat itself.
Jamaica’s Chinyelu Asher, a member of the FIFPRO Global Players’ Council, told CNN Sport the current squad has reached a “breaking point.”
Just weeks before their first game, Jamaica’s players released a statement, expressing their “utmost disappointment with the [JFF],” saying that the women’s team had missed several friendly matches due to “extreme disorganization,” and that they had “showed up repeatedly without receiving contractually agreed upon compensation.”
Asher told CNN Sport ahead of the tournament: “We just need the federation to know that we are holding them accountable, and we are taking that matter seriously and we don’t really have time to waste … We’re still trying to give them space to make up for lost time and to shift gears in a way that supports the best performance we can have.”
SYDNEY – APRIL 28: An aerial view of Sydney Football Stadium on April 28, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. The stadium will be a venue hosting matches during the 2023 FIFA World Cup held in Australia & New Zealand commencing on July 20th, with the final being played on August 20th. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
CNN has reached out to the JFF for comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication. In a statement on its website, the JFF acknowledged that “things have not been done perfectly” but that it is “working assiduously to resolve” players’ concerns.
The Reggae Girlz now have a contractual agreement with their national federation, according to Asher, but still had to release a public statement to ensure that they received the best possible support for a World Cup.
“The people holding the torch in [the equal pay] fight are normally the active players and that’s a really vulnerable space to be,” Asher said. “If you’re having to fight against people that are creating opportunities for you to play … it can get really messy.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino (R) praised the growth of the women’s game in last 10 years and believes the tournament will win over skeptics in a media conference on Thursday ahead of the Women’s World Cup’s start on July 20.
Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
An unequal footing
Soccer players’ pay is composed of many different elements: salaries from their club, match fees when representing their national team, prize money and sponsorship. As such, equal pay can become nebulous.
While Morgan and Rapinoe were the highest paid female soccer players last year, earning $5.7 million each on and off the pitch, their most successful male counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo, was earning $136 million from both on-field and off-field revenue, Forbes estimated.
But Morgan and Rapinoe’s own estimated multimillion-dollar earnings are an outlier at even the highest echelons of the sport.
While top earners’ wages in countries such as the US and France average nearly $250,000 per year, salaries vary greatly between countries and can be less than $600 per month if any at all, according to a 2020 report by global players’ union FIFPRO.
Alex Morgan and the USWNT are seeking their third consecutive Women’s World Cup title.
Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images
The report also found that, across the board, top female players get paid the same or less in a year than what male soccer players of the same level receive per month.
“Having meager or poor compensation is unacceptable because these footballers, who are the best in their country, are dedicating hours, weeks, months and years of their time towards representing their national team on the highest level,” Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, FIFPRO’s general secretary, told CNN Sport.
The Women’s World Cup is an important source of income for players. But many who will be competing over the next few weeks have needed other jobs to sustain themselves.
A FIFPRO report released in June found two thirds of surveyed players reported having to take unpaid leave from another job to play for their national team in World Cup qualifying tournaments, such as the CONCACAF W Championship or the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
Almost a third weren’t paid by their national teams at all during these past 18 months, and for those who were paid, it was often dependent on participation and performance, creating instability.
“It’s not like an amusement park, we’re footballers, most of us are pro players,” Asher said, recalling that she worked as a coach at points during her career to help make ends meet.
“This is our career and that deserves compensation and a reward for the work that’s put through,” she said.
According to a 2022 FIFA Benchmarking Report, nearly a quarter (23%) of 225 clubs across 25 national leagues have mainly amateur players, while the rest work with a mix of professionals – who have an official contract with the club and are paid more than their incurred expenses – and amateurs.
More than half (53%) of the surveyed federations still don’t have regulations on players’ minimum wages.
Ahead of the Women’s World Cup, Infantino threatened a tournament broadcast blackout in five major European countries over unacceptable offers of media rights. Though it should be noted that FIFA isn’t short of money – its record-breaking revenue during the 2019-2022 cycle stood at $7.6 billion.
FIFA’s move to introduce individual prize money this year came after more than 150 players from 25 national teams, backed by their global union FIFPRO, sent a letter to soccer’s governing body last October calling for equal conditions and prize money.
“Many players at the Women’s World Cup come into the tournament as amateurs or semi-professional, which undermines their preparation and, in turn, the quality of football we see on the pitch,” said FIFPRO in the letter sent to Infantino in October 2022, adding that many players also had no agreement with their member associations to ensure guaranteed World Cup compensation.
Baer-Hoffmann told CNN that the prize money guarantee to players was “an important step towards giving more of them financial independence and an ability to focus on becoming the best they can be,” but also called for national federations to give their players “much more financial support” in the intervening years between each World Cup.
More than simply closing a pay gap
The gender pay gap is typically referred to in monetary terms, measuring how much women earn for every dollar a man earns. But for the players, equal pay encompasses more than simply closing this gap to the salaries enjoyed by male footballers.
“I know that’s not realistic (immediately),” Asher said, highlighting the importance of facilities, scheduling and maternity leave. “Anything that creates space for a professional women’s player to show up and feel just as professional as a man.”
With some of the Women’s World Cup money ringfenced for players, New Zealand captain Ali Riley told CNN’s Amanda Davies that this represents a “huge milestone,” even if it isn’t the “finish line.”
At the beginning of her career, Riley recalled playing in the World Cup was “just for honor,” rather than something that could provide financial security.
“It’s not just the increase in prize money,” she added. “But also, the equal conditions in terms of the delegation size and having single rooms. These are things that you would have thought we would have had a long time ago.”
Ali Riley (R) will lead out her team on home soil.
Catherine Ivill/FIFA/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Canada’s players told a parliamentary committee in March that the team had been forced to cut training programs and staff, were paid significantly less than their male counterparts in 2021 – the year they became Olympic champions – and that there had been “disregard” for any attempt to establish a women’s domestic league.
According to CNN analysis of Canada Soccer financial accounts, the federation spent more than double on men’s national soccer teams ($11 million) in 2021 than on women’s teams ($5.1 million).
And in 2022, when the men’s team qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 and was eliminated in the group stages, Canada Soccer spent even more – $19.5 million on men’s national teams of all ages. The women’s national team qualified for the World Cup too, but their teams only got $14 million.
Canada Soccer said that it has proposed a landmark equal pay agreement that would see the women’s team become the second-highest paid national team, but an agreement has yet to be reached. CNN has reached out to Canada Soccer for comment but has not received a response at the time of publication.
For all the practical barriers to gender equality in soccer, it is “sexist attitudes” and “shifting the attitudinal barriers that’s the toughest,” former executive director of Women’s Soccer Australia Heather Reid told CNN Sport.
Such attitudes are deeply entrenched. Until relatively recently, women were not even able to play soccer in several countries around the world.
It was “quite unsuitable for females,” an English Football Association (FA) minute book said in 1921, and the organization banned women from playing at its clubs until 1971. The French Football Federation only recognized women’s soccer in 1970, and the Royal Belgium Football Association a year later.
Even today, most decision-makers in soccer continue to be men – UEFA’s executive committee has 20 members, 19 of whom are men, while FIFA’s Council has 37 members, 30 of whom are men. All but one of those women sitting on those decision-making bodies fill quota seats, specifically reserved for women.
And nearly three quarters (74%) of head coaches across all women’s soccer leagues are still male, with no women at all in top positions in Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway, according to the 2022 FIFA Benchmarking Report.
“I think it’s a mindset. It’s tradition,” Riley said. “The women’s game is still new.”
‘Our duty to make the sport better’
The recent history of women’s soccer is intertwined with its fight for equal pay and treatment.
Days before the start of the World Cup, England’s Lionesses announced they would put on hold discussions with their federation over performance-related bonuses until the end of the tournament.
Earlier in July, the English Football Association said it will not be paying bonuses to the players for their World Cup performance, on top of the individual prize money pledged by FIFA.
“We are disappointed that a resolution has still not been achieved,” the players said in a statement.
Four years ago, chants of “equal play, equal pay” echoed around the stadium as the USWNT lifted the World Cup trophy.
“I think you need to see [the increase in prize money at this World Cup] in the context of probably a decade of actions that happened domestically, obviously in the United States, but … in all kinds of countries, players have made these pushes with their unions as a collective to increase the standards in their country,” FIFPRO’s Baer-Hoffmann told CNN’s Amanda Davies.
Megan Rapinoe was at the forefront of the USWNT’s equal pay fight.
Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images
USWNT players reached an equal pay deal with US Soccer in May 2022, after six years of legal wrangling, dating back to a claim of wage discrimination filed in 2016 by five of the team’s stars – Carli Lloyd, Rapinoe, Morgan, Hope Solo and Becky Sauerbrunn – and a gender discrimination lawsuit that the whole team filed in 2019.
As a result, the USWNT earned more money from its male counterparts reaching the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar than it did from winning its own tournaments in 2015 and 2019.
“It was challenging,” Lloyd told CNN Sport, adding that they were calling attorneys, reading documents and holding team meetings on legal strategy, all while in training camps.
“For six years, we had been in this fight and nobody wants to be fighting with their employer,” she added. “[But] long gone were the days of thinking that we just need to accept what’s given to us. So it was our duty to fight and to make the sport better … just like all the players before us had done.”
A timeline of protests and progress
Nine United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) players strike before winning Olympic gold.
Dec. 1999 — Jan. 2000
US players are in another contractual dispute with US Soccer.
Italian Football Federation (FIGC) recognizes its female players as professionals after a strike threat.
After winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria’s players protest outside the country’s Parliament.
Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) signed by USWNT (April), Norway (October) and Sweden (November).
USWNT sues US Soccer for gender discrimination. The team won the World Cup that year and in 2015.
Jamaican national team, the Reggae Girlz, launch a “No Pay, No Play” social media campaign
Federal judge dismisses USWNT’s equal pay claim.
Following an appeal, USWNT and US Soccer end the dispute with a $24 million settlement to be paid to the players and a guarantee of an equal rate of pay to the men’s team in all friendlies and tournaments.
Spain’s women footballers agree with the Spanish federation on an equal pay deal.
Canada’s women claim they were paid five times less than male counterparts in 2021, the year they won Olympic gold.
A record $110 million prize pot negotiated for the Women’s World Cup, at least $30,000 guaranteed for every player.
The Reggae Girlz release a statement complaining about “extreme disorganization” of their federation and lack of “contractually agreed upon compensation.”
England and South Africa are in dispute with their federations over bonuses.
Sources: FIFPRO Reports 2018 and 2020, FIFA, US Soccer, USWNT, US District Court for the Central District of California, Canadian Parliament, The Reggae Girlz, BBC, WBUR-FM, The New York Times, LA Times, El País, The Guardian, Reuters.
There were different challenges for the generation before Lloyd, the generation who advocated for and participated in the fledgling international tournaments of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“In the old days, players paid to represent their country,” Reid said, recalling that every player had to contribute $850 when Australia traveled to China for the 1988 FIFA Women’s Invitation Tournament, a pilot World Cup.
While the sport has professionalized since then, those same issues still disfigure it.
“People want to know, what’s the progress been like from the last World Cup,” Asher said. “And I’m like: ‘We’re here doing it again.’”