Just two days before the start of the Women’s World Cup, the Lionesses issued a statement regarding ongoing contestations with the FA over bonuses and commercial structures. What are their demands and why are they yet to be fulfilled?
Since their win at the Euros last Summer, the Lionesses have set to work on inspiring younger generations of female footballers and advocating for the advancement of the women’s game. Directly following their Euro success, they penned an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss calling for ‘a fundamental overhaul of the access to sport for all girls in schools’ – this effort was also aided by the FA, who oversaw the development of grassroots girls football in Euro playmaking cities. The Lionesses success in 2022 has seen a major increase in interest in the women’s game in England, with the FA reporting a 12% increase in interest amongst girls 5-16. The continued record-breaking game attendances and growing fanbases have also seen the total attendance at this years World Cup rise 54%. So why are the FA still yet to reach an agreement with the Lionesses over bonuses and commercial payment structures?
The above statement was released by Millie Bright via Instagram just over a week ago, signed by each of the Lionesses. Despite their disappointment at a lack of solution to the proposed changes, the team committed to a pause on the discussions and full concentration on the World Cup ahead. The FA have withheld from giving pay bonuses to the Lionesses due to a reconfiguration of FIFA’s payment structure: previously, money was given to the footballing associations of each country to distribute amongst players and staff as they saw fit, whereas from this year, the money will go directly to the players. As the FA can no longer control this money, they claim that they stand to make a loss on this World Cup through outgoings such as equipment, staffing and travel.
England are not the only team to express frustration at this lack of support, with the Canadian Olympic champions having similar complaints. As it stands, only the United States and Australia have committed to player bonuses.
Captain Millie Bright issued the statement last week
The statement is part of a wider pay dispute within women’s football – it’s traditional for the English men’s team to donate their international duty pay bonuses to charity, whereas the women have typically split their bonuses to donate a sum whilst also keeping some as a personal wage. This is due to the considerably lower wages seen in the Women’s Super League as opposed to the Premier League; the average WSL player earns £25,000-£27,000 per year, as reported by National World, whereas the average wage for Premier League player is £60,000 per week.
Whilst this year’s World Cup prize pool has almost tripled from the 2019 competition, totalling £84 million, it is still almost £300 million less than that of the men’s tournament. Aside from bonuses, the statement also addresses commercial structures, which the Lionesses believe restrict their access to sponsorships and investments – this issue has made further headlines this week with regards to both Nike and Adidas’ refusal to develop replica goalkeeper kits for the Women’s World Cup.
Mary Earps has spoken out over Nike's refusal to distribute replica goalkeeper kits
Expressing concern for young goalkeepers who may now feel as though their role is not valued enough, England vice-captain and keeper Mary Earps has also signalled a level of personal disappointment that her relatives will not be able to sport her shirt as they support from the stands in Australia and New Zealand. Earps even offered to fund the goalkeeping kits herself, stating that Nike’s refusal to do so was harmful to the women’s game:
“So what you are saying is that goalkeeping isn't important but you can be a striker if you want."
More positively, since the dispute hit the headlines women's football retail store Foudys have produced a t-shirt in support of Earps. Sporting the same pink colour scheme as the official shirt and patterned with the initials MAE - for Mary Earps - the t-shirt proudly states "This is my keeper shirt."
Despite recent advancements of the women’s game in the build up to this year’s World Cup, the statement made by the Lionesses, coupled with recent complaints of inequality from sportswear companies, show that there is still a significant bridge to built between the treatment of the women’s and men’s national teams. Maheta Molango, CEO of the Professional Footballer’s Association, has emphasised that these agreements will ‘ensure a far higher degree of stability and security” – something that many of the women’s team participating in this year’s tournament have lacked in recent years. Ultimately, if we wish for our women’s national teams to thrive on the pitch, it is essential that we continue to support their off-pitch battles for better pay, better working conditions and greater support from footballing associations, commercial partners and fans.
Our Lionesses seek to continue their winning ways tomorrow at 9:30am BST, when they will face Denmark at Sydney Football Stadium.