Matildas pay gap is an example of a broader cultural problem

While the Matildas are making history at the Women’s World Cup in Canada, the issue of women’s pay in football has been dominating the headlines locally. Paid significantly less than their male counterparts, The Blog FC looks at why women are paid less and how that can change.

By Ryan Cropp and Mark Houston 

On Sunday morning, while most honest folk will be sleeping off their hangovers, the Matildas will play Japan for a place in the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup.

As many shrewd non-football fans have observed, this is the deepest any Australian team has ever gone into a World Cup, male or female.

But it has also drawn public attention to the atrociously low wages paid to Matildas players in comparison with their male counterparts.

For a standard international game, Matildas players receive a $500 match payment, while Socceroos players earn an equivalent $6,500. Matildas players also earn $21,000 annual salaries that partially make up for the lack of full-time professionalism at club level.

Socceroos players do not receive a salary payment, but this is more than made up for by their club wages. As of 2012, the A-League minimum wage stood at around $50,000 and the average wage $106,000 (not including marquee players).

In many ways this is indicative of the commercial realities of elite sport. The advertising and television dollar have an ever-increasing role in sports administration. No one embodies the marriage of these industries better than barely-competent AFL pundit, Collingwood president and official boofhead Eddie McGuire. Jobs for the boys indeed.

Kyah Simon and Lisa de Vanna celebrate Simon's goal in the 1-0 win over Brazil.
Kyah Simon and Lisa de Vanna celebrate Simon’s goal in the 1-0 win over Brazil.

The 6am kickoff time then is perhaps an appropriate one, keeping the women’s game completely out of sight. Televised sport is a boys club: no girls allowed (on the field).

For some steadfast believers in the sacred authority of consumer choices, this is merely evidence of its inherent inferiority.

By this reasoning, we watch male sport because it is faster, stronger and the players have bigger muscles. And as sports fans are clearly rational, utility-maximizing automatons, they will naturally opt for the superior product, which would explain why Premier League Darts is shown on Australian TV and the W-League is not?

The gender pay gap in football is just one example of a much broader cultural problem. Despite women watching and playing in huge numbers, on television sport remains overwhelmingly masculine. And sadly for professional athletes, television pays the bills.

Which begs the question: Is women’s football not on television because it is unpopular, or is it unpopular because it is not on television?

On the evidence of the latest World Cup tournament, it could very well be the latter. Big crowds, quality football (Team USA notwithstanding) and exciting, hard-fought matches have been a treat for many football fans previously unfamiliar with the women’s game. Japan’s golazo against the Netherlands on Wednesday was as good as any you would see at a men’s tournament.

Women’s sport is an untapped market for commercial television. In 2009-10, the ABS estimated that over 3.3 million women attended one or more sporting events as spectators. Nearly 6 million women participated in some kind of regular sports and recreation activity. In some age brackets, the participation rates were as high as 70%.

In November, the ABC announced that it was ending its broadcast of the W-League as a result of the federal government’s funding cuts. The cash-strapped FFA, already propping up multiple A-League clubs, runs the competition at a loss.

Australians cannot know the value of women’s sport unless they can see it. Increasingly, the only way they can see it is on television. No affirmative action policy can succeed without significant investment at all levels, and it’s an area where the cartoonishly evil mafiosos at FIFA are blatantly dragging the chain.

In 2014 FIFA spent $27m USD on a Zurich hotel, yet between 2011 and 2014 they spent a measly $13m USD on women’s football development.

Commercial parties have understandable hesitations in investing in women’s football. It currently lacks the crowd figures, television audiences and merchandise sales to make it economically attractive (though that side of things is improving as the current World Cup breaks viewing records around the world). Even so, there is no excuse for FIFA’s lack of investment in the women’s game.

The Swiss-based organisation has deep pockets. It recently spent $29m USD on an embarrassing piece of agitprop film. It also recorded a $2.6b USD profit from the 2014 World Cup alone, substantially more than the Brazilian government came away with.

Considering FIFA’s seemingly bottomless pit of money, a three-year investment of $13m USD is embarrassing. It’s also an indication that institutionalised gender inequality in football needs addressing at all levels.

Fair pay for the Matildas would be a good start.