This week, it was revealed that players from Crystal Palace Ladies had been faced with an ultimatum. Secure £250 – either from a sponsor or their own money- or be unable to play for the club. The women’s first team reserves being asked to fund their own annual fees cuts a stark contrast to the situation at the men’s team, who spend millions each year on players and award top squad members with lucrative contracts.
What kind of message does it send to female footballers, about their role at the club? Many of the women affected would have been included in the first-team at some point in the season – but they may not be afforded that chance, if they’re unable to source the fees upfront.
Women’s football is rapidly gathering momentum, yet there remains a huge double standard in the way it is funded, it seems, compared to the men’s game. Whilst many premier league football clubs are happy to make empty platitudes and tokenistic gestures when it comes to encouraging their female players, their support doesn’t always extend to finances. When the male players at a club are being handed £130,000 a week contracts (as is the case for Wilfried Zaha), yet all their female counterparts get handed a letter to give to potential sponsors, it’s easy to see why those in the women’s game are angry.
At this stage, it almost feels like the women’s team are an afterthought, or just seen as a bolt-on to the men’s club. Not a successful team in their own right. When asked, Crystal Palace suggested that forcing women to seek sponsorships would improve awareness of the women’s game and strengthen ties between players and businesses/the community. Can you imagine if Christian Benteke was asked to go and seek sponsorship himself, or else be prevented from playing? It would never happen. The only team in the entire country acting to remove the double standards between men and women’s football is Lewes FC, who pay both genders the same.
Discrimination in the sport has risen, too. In May this year, Women in Football revealed a 400% increase in reports of sex discrimination and harassment – with social media abuse being the most common form. Matchday incidents were up by 133.3%, workplace incidents 112.5% and social media attacks 285.4%. Look at the abuse Alex Scott got when she was a pundit on Sky. She did a fantastic job but got sexist abuse for daring to talk about the sport she loves.
NO GOOD REASON FOR IT
Now that Women’s football is increasingly becoming professional and, therefore, a full-time job for women, just as it is in the men’s game, there is no good reason that the two should be handled differently. The top tier of women’s football is the Women’s Super League – in which the average salary is speculated to be £34,000 a year. Zaha is getting paid 4x that, in a week.
The typical response from many fans of the male game would be that women’s football just isn’t of the same standard, therefore, of course, they deserve to be paid less. But when you consider women’s football was never allowed to flourish alongside the men’s game, but had its development stunted by the FA in its infancy, it becomes easier to see why such a difference in standard might exist. In 1921, the FA decided that football was “unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”, then subsequently banned women from playing on FA member pitches until July of 1971 (after much pressure from UEFA).
It was revealed the reason for the ban was because authorities feared the women’s game would eventually eclipse men’s football, sparked by a women’s game, at Goodison park, where more than 50,000 spectators turned up. So, they put a stop to it. Women’s football is developmentally about 50 years behind the men’s game, through no fault of its own. More funding and better publicity is obviously what’s needed for the women’s game to thrive – but it won’t get that by being treated like a tokenistic gesture by clubs to seem inclusive, without being willing to invest properly.
DOUBLE STANDARDS AT EVERY LEVEL
Given the current manager of the England women’s national team is a man, yet there are no female managers of men’s teams, the gender-based double standards permeating all levels of the game are clear to see. Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes has spoken about how she believes the next generation of women coaches will eventually break through into managing male sides. And why shouldn’t they? Men can work at women’s clubs, why not vice versa? Why should women’s football be yet another arena for men to dominate, when they can’t get a job in the men’s game? It shouldn’t just be something for them to fall back on or use as a stepping stone.
Until the culture of toxic masculinity is quashed, it won’t get easier for women to break into the men’s game and to end the double standards once and for all. There are many competent and talented women who would enrich men’s football – but they fear sticking their neck out, because as has been shown with Sian Massey or Alex Scott, women are the target of disproportionate scrutiny. Women in football can no longer be ignored. We make up a hefty percentage of the crowd on match days, we participate online and we’re getting more involved. It’s time more was done to drop the idea that football is a game played by men, for men.