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Why is Equality in Women's Football Still Offside?

By Solicitor, Employment

Despite crashing out of Euro 2017, England’s success in reaching the semis has put women’s football back in the spotlight – and reignited the debate over the disparity in male and female players’ pay.

Female footballers typically earn a fraction of what their male counterparts are paid. It was revealed in 2015 that while Wayne Rooney earned £300,000 per week, Steph Houghton, the England captain earned £35,000 a year. But is this lawful?

Equal pay law

Under the Equality Act 2010 men and women are entitled to equal pay for equal work. Anyone employed under a contract personally to do work is entitled to terms that are as favourable as those of a colleague of the other gender doing equal work.

Differences in pay are not against the law and if an employer can show that the differences in contractual terms is due to a material factor which is neither directly nor indirectly sex discriminatory, then the terms need not be the same. Something that is seemingly gender-neutral but which, in practice, has a disproportionate adverse impact on women will need to be objectively justified by the employer.

A factor that football clubs are often cited as relying on when challenged is the higher revenues generated by the men’s game, which allows greater spend on player wages. In the Women’s Super League, the top league in England, there is a salary cap with clubs able to use a maximum 40 per cent of their turnover on players’ wages. With less revenue generated, there is less money for clubs to spend on wages. However, lower revenues from and lower interest in women's sport are differences which ARE directly related to gender - fewer people watch women's football because of the gender of the players. Therefore, such a reason is tainted by sex and any difference needs to be objectively justified by a club where they pay their male and female players differently. It may also be more difficult to justify in the lower leagues where clubs have both men’s and women’s teams and the difference between the revenues is not as large.  

Progress

The playing field needs to be levelled. Greater prominence needs to be given to women and sport. This needs to start as early as in school, where we still find that boys are encouraged to play sport and girls less so, which has long term consequences not only for those individual students but for sport and equality as a whole.

One club, Lewes FC, whose men’s side play in the eighth tier of the English game, the Isthmian League Division One South and whose women’s team plays in the third tier of the female game in England, the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division, recently announced its ‘Equality FC’ campaign which commits the club not only to equal pay but also an equal budget and provision of equal resources for its men’s and women’s teams. Designed to spark a positive change across the UK, we would like to see other clubs follow suit, by following Lewes’s example taking the lead for change, and not just changing as a result of a challenge by the players.

As the women’s game continues to increase in popularity, with higher attendances and increased commercial revenue, we hope to see women footballers’ wages increase in line, helping to close the gender pay gap in sport.

Employment Law