Day 6

As women's soccer teams around the world fight for equal pay, they're gaining more fans

This year's FIFA Women's World Cup is setting viewership records. But sports writer Lindsay Gibbs says that masks real problems with women's soccer and that it's the players' protests that have made the game more popular.

'They're saying we're worth it and it's working'

United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring a goal at this year's Women's World Cup. (Francisco Seco/The Associated Press)

FIFA expects the Women's World Cup to reach a total of 1 billion television viewers worldwide by Sunday when the Netherlands face off against the United States in the final game. 

11.7 million fans in the U.K. watched the semi-final match between England and the USA on Tuesday, making it the biggest TV event of the year. 

But FIFA shouldn't pat themselves on the back for the rising popularity of women's soccer, says Lindsay Gibbs, sports writer at Think Progress. 

"I'm sure FIFA would like the credit but it's really not because of FIFA," she said, adding there's a $410 million gap between the prize money for the men's and women's World Cup championships. 

If the women's soccer it growing more popular, Gibbs says it's because of the players' global fight for equal pay and better treatment is getting them more attention and support.

Here is a snapshot of that fight around the world. 

U.S. Women's National Soccer Team

The American team is the most successful women's soccer team in the world, Gibbs says, but the defending champions have risen to the top while fighting their federation. 

Lindsey Horan of the U.S. celebrates her goal just three minutes in the Americans' win over Sweden on June 20. (Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

On International Women's Day this year, the team sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, due to a pay gap and overall working conditions. 

"The way their whole pay structure is set up is incredibly unequal," Gibbs said. 

The Guardian reported in June that there is a pay gap of approximately $730,000 in bonuses between the U.S. men's and women's teams for winning the World Cup.

Spain women's national football team

"When you think of Spain you think of football. But that's mainly the men's program that's gotten all the investment whereas the women's team has really been discarded by their federation for so many years," Gibbs told Day 6.

In 2014, the Spanish Football Federation had only spent 1 per cent of its budget on women's soccer, she added. 

Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. battles Spain's Marta Corredera on June 24, 2019. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The following year, Spain's women's team qualified for their very first World Cup, but their run ended in disappointment when they ranked last in their group. That same year, they called for the firing of their manager, Ignacio Quereda, who had a poor record. 

"These players would basically have to prepare for matches all on their own. They would do the scouting of their opponents through YouTube to come up with their own strategies for these matches on these big stages because that's how little the coach cared," Gibbs said. 

Quereda resigned in July 2015. The team qualified for the World Cup once again this year and had a much better showing. 

The Matildas 

Australia's women's soccer team, known as the Matildas, were scheduled for a sell-out tour of the U.S. in 2015.

"But they ended up cancelling this tour because they were so upset over their pay which was far below minimum wage," Gibbs said.

Australia's Hayley Raso is sent flying as she battle's Jamaica's Den-Den Blackwood in their Group C match on June 18. Australia won 4-1. (Elsa/Getty Images)

That year, CNN reported that each Matilda left the World Cup in Canada with just $2,014 in prize money despite advancing to the quarterfinals. That was to be added to their annual salary of $14,844.

"Since that strike, they've been able to bargain for a much better contract," Gibbs said.

"It's not quite equal prize money, but it's a much more sustainable situation for women playing football in Australia."

The Super Falcons 

Three years ago, Nigeria's women's soccer team held a sit-in at a hotel in Abuja, that country's capital, until their federation paid them the bonuses it owed for winning the Women's Africa Cup of Nations. 

"The deal in Nigeria is that the government is in control of so many of the sports finances so … the women are always told it's too complicated to get your money; you're going to have to wait," she said. 

Germany's Alexandra Popp, right, shoots the ball next to Nigeria's Halimatu Ayinde during Germany's 3-0 win in the Round of 16 at the Women's World Cup. (Laurent Cipriani/The Associated Press)

This year, the Super Falcons qualified for the World Cup and had "a really strong showing," Gibbs said. 

But they, "at the end of it all, had to go back and still protest again because once again, they were owed bonus money that the federation had not paid." 

Part of the feminist movement 

Around the world, women's soccer players' fight for equality is folding into larger feminist movements. When players strike and protest, they're also attracting more eyeballs and thus more popularity, Gibbs says.

"For so long, female footballers, they've been told to just be happy with whatever you're getting … you should be grateful that FIFA is even holding a tournament for you," she said. 

"But these women don't buy that anymore. They're fighting for more and they're saying we're worth it and it's working."

To hear more from Lindsay Gibbs, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.