532 Words on: Equal pay for equal work

The gender pay gap in football is a topic that’s not going away for the foreseeable future, primarily because the chasm is so vast it seems insurmountable. The highest paid footballer in the world, alleged rapist Christiano Ronaldo, earned $700,000 New Zealand dollars per week in salary at Real Madrid. The highest paid female footballer in the world, Alex Morgan, earns roughly that amount per year. Meanwhile some UK Women’s Super League players reportedly earn less than $50 per week.

When it’s pointed out that the massive disparities here might just be a tiny smidgeon unfair, the classic apologist retort is “yeah but female footballers pull in a lot less revenue than men.”

To which most say “yeah, but women in football have been suppressed and undervalued for so many generations. There’s catching up to do. You have to invest to increase marketability” – which is true. But it’s also accepting a shitty premise at the same time as distracting us from the real issue.

We should be careful not to buy into the argument that pay for different genders should be determined by the revenue they bring in. If you’re a professional, what you do is work. You’re exchanging your labour for money and it should be a non-negotiable cast iron principle that the value of your labour has nothing to do with your genitals.

The problem is structural and much bigger than football, or even sport in general, evidenced by the fact that gender has far too much to do with pay across society as a whole. New Zealand’s recent landmark equal pay settlement, that arose out of the Service and Food Workers Union and Kristine Bartlett taking legal action against aged care employer Terranova Homes, is literally a case in point.

The union successfully argued that wage discrimination is not only illegal within a workplace or even a sector, but it’s illegal across sectors too and evidence shows that female dominated work is generally undervalued compared to male dominated industries. For example the large gap in pay between aged care workers (92% of whom are women) and corrections officers is evidence of gender bias across society. They eventually won pay increases between 15% and 49%.

Oddly, the sky did not fall in.

And the interesting thing is aged care facilities generally break even or make a profit. Prisons most definitely do not. Funny how income generation isn’t so much of a factor when it’s women bringing in more than men.

The other principle at stake here is the notion that “men’s football” and “women’s football” are two different things. They are not. It’s just called football. And if you can’t discriminate across sectors you sure as hell can’t do it within one workplace. If Lewes FC can change for the better, everyone can. Ronaldo and Messi and Neymar and a lot of other players can afford to earn less so women in the game can earn more. It can be done if the will is there to do it. So stop making excuses.

The real take home message for football is this: Whether it’s an employer undervaluing women or society undervaluing their work – the issue is not revenue, it’s sexism.