Low wages force female footballers to choose between sport & stability

Arsenal defender Niamh Fahey believes Premier League stars earn too much, while women footballers have to make big sacrifices

Niamh Fahey
Arsenal defender Niamh Fahey in action Photo: I Hector, via Facebook

Niamh Fahey

As Premier League stars earn more than ever, the gap in wealth between English football’s biggest names and their female counterparts in the Women’s Super League continues to widen.

Recent figures show that average Premier League wages have reached £22,353-a-week, which often increase through lucrative bonuses and commercial activities.

Female players who featured in last season’s inaugural WSL campaign earned in the region of £250 per game, with small performance related bonuses but very few other perks.

Earlier this year, Tottenham Hotspur defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto controversially admitted that he played football for the financial rewards – and not for the love of the sport.

“It’s a good, good job and I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion,” says Assou-Ekotto.

In contrast, Arsenal ladies left-back and Republic of Ireland international, Niamh Fahey, says women footballers must make huge sacrifices to pursue a professional career.

Unlike Assou-Ekotto, football is not a job but a passion for Fahey.

“Most girls make big sacrifices in their working careers to play football,” says Fahey. “They have to take the time off for away games or international training camps.

“It is virtually impossible to have a full-time job outside of the sport and so financially most female footballers are not well fixed.

“When money is involved things change. Within women’s football there is a passion and desire to win and to be successful regardless of financial reward which I believe maintains a true love for the game.”

With the average Premier League footballer earning £1.16m yearly, Fahey believes the astronomical salaries paid to the biggest names in English football are ruining the sport.

“I think the money the men get is far too much and it has spoiled football in certain ways as clubs are operating more like a business,” the 24-year-old added.

In 2007, the Football Association were criticised by England women’s footballers for paying £40-a-day during the World Cup in China, which lasted five weeks.

And Fahey’s Ireland team-mate, Méabh De Búrca, believes the poor financial incentives in the sport are forcing women players to choose between pursuing a football career – which may never reach a professional level – and quitting the sport to earn a decent living.

“Women are forced to make a choice ““ do they play and not get paid very well or get paid better doing something else,” said De Burca.

“There are limited female sports teams at the fully professional level, and this makes it quite difficult not just in football, but in many other female sports.

“With the monetary benefits not being as lucrative it definitely means that women who are playing full-time are playing for the love of the sport rather than for monetary incentives.”

In April, the FA launched the WSL, the UK’s first elite women’s football division, and promised to invest £3m over two years.

The FA imposed a salary cap which ensures no more than four players from any team can earn more than £20,000-a-year, with clubs expected to invest in their facilities, marketing and commercial growth.

With Premier League wages increasing by 200 per cent since 2000, top-flight footballers will continue to reap the rewards as the league’s popularity grows.

But although FA Women’s and Girls’ Football Development Officer Emma Barnes admits bigger wages would encourage more ladies to pursue a football career, many, it seems, are willing to make the financial sacrifice to play a sport which they love.

“In my experience, females play the sport because they love it, and this is enough for a lot of them,” says Barnes.

“Obviously the benefits of more money involved in the game would help massively as it would enable more players from the top end of the sport to become full time athletes rather than having to juggle this and a job.”

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