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State of Women’s Soccer in 2018

FIFPro employment report, changes in NWSL, highlight the challenges still facing the sport

USA Women v Sweden Women - International Friendly Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images

The world’s largest union for professional footballers, FIFPro, recently released their summary of a 2017 study done by the University of Manchester regarding the employment conditions for female players around the globe.

This survey was compiled from data submitted by nearly 3,300 women worldwide who play in the top leagues in their countries, and revealed some pretty significant findings. While it isn’t the goal of this article to break down the entire report, there are a few key pieces worth looking at as the RSL Family looks to begin supporting its own professional soccer club when Utah Royals FC take the pitch in March.

To begin with, we’ll start with a definition: FIFA regulations state that a professional player is one who has a written contract and is paid more for their footballing activity than it costs to have them participate in said activity. According to that definition, only 18% of the players surveyed are considered professionals. It’s interesting to note that 24% of the respondents put themselves in that category, meaning that about 200 players in the world think they are at the top of the game, but are not meeting the standards of the governing body.

When it comes to having a written contract, something which seems should be a given in professional sports, only 53% of those surveyed reported having one. Of those, just 72% were ones who met the definition of a professional. In contrast, 92% of men playing soccer have a written contract as stated in a similar survey done in 2016 for those players. Far too often women are playing without any legal ground to stand on when it comes to disputes over their working condition, making it nearly impossible for them to guarantee any standard of living.

Perhaps the most notable point is the issue of pay. Women are paid considerably less than men for playing the same sport. The survey shows that 60% of female players make $600 per month or less after taxes, and they deal with the same rates of late or missing pay that the men do. The result is that many players work outside of soccer to support themselves and their families, often while also training for and playing in matches for their clubs. Additionally, 47% of players report they would consider ending their time as players early due to financial reasons, and nearly 40% quit playing to pursue a career outside of soccer.

It is going to take a collaborative effort from the leaders within the soccer world to improve the working conditions for female players. This includes the supporters, who have a unique chance to be a big part of the growth of the sport. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, as much as possible is being done to make the Royals FC players feel like they are the most valued talent in the world. They are playing in the same stadium as Real Salt Lake, they have a dedicated locker room customized to their needs, and they are having many of their non-soccer items provided for them by the team. They are here to play soccer at an elite level, with the club stating that the goal is to be the best in the world.

The restriction on their salary is out of our hands, but we can provide them the support to play in an incredible environment despite that. The success of this club, and the future growth and improvement in equality for women’s soccer, depends greatly on the passion we will bring to stand behind them as they pursue their professional goals. It’s a tough time for women’s soccer, with all of the challenges mentioned above, along with teams struggling to fill stadiums and attract attention despite the high quality of play.

Female players have a reputation for being deeply appreciative of their supporters, forming a relationship that is unique to sports. They’ve struggled to be recognized for their skill, and they continue to play despite the disadvantages not for the glory, but because they love to play. It’s a sacrifice many of them willingly make to live their dreams, and it’s an incredible experience to be a part of to create an atmosphere in the stadium that drives their pursuits.

Team owner Dell Loy Hansen has stated he will fill Rio Tinto Stadium to capacity for the first ever home match on April 14th. The challenge to the RSL Family is to fill the seats every time, and take advantage of the opportunity we have to see world-class soccer in person. Imagine having a club like FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or Arsenal playing in Salt Lake City full time. Best players in the world with World Cup winners on every team. That’s what this team is bringing here.

Don’t let yourself miss a moment of it.