Professional Footballers Australia raises gender discrimination concern with FIFA over unequal prizemoney for the Women’s World Cup 2019

8th July 2019 - The Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has obtained legal advice about FIFA’s compliance with their human rights obligations under the FIFA Statutes over the FIFA Council’s decision to grant significantly less prize money to the 2019 Women’s World Cup (WWC) than that awarded to the men in 2018.

The PFA is the exclusive representative body for the Matildas, the Australian women’s national football team, which competed at the WWC. The PFA instructed Heather Williams QC, Jennifer Robinson and Keina Yoshida of Doughty Street Chambers to provide their opinion on the decision of the FIFA Council and whether it complies with FIFA’s obligations on gender equality and discrimination (“the Opinion”). Their advice informed the PFA’s World Cup Equality  campaign run during the competition “Our Goal Is Now” (#OurGoalIsNow #WorldCupEquality)

In October 2018, the FIFA Council decided that the WWC prize money would be USD $30 million. This amounts to only 7.5% of the prize money paid for the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia and results in an increase in the gap in prize money of USD $27 million between the men’s and women’s events between 2014 and 2019. The champion women’s team in 2019 will receive USD $4 million, which is only 10.5% of that paid to France, the men’s champion team in 2018.  The effect of FIFA’s decision is that the women’s team who go on to win WWC in 2019 will receive only 50% of what their men’s team received for qualifying in 2018.

While the WWC prize money has doubled since the previous WWC in 2015, the gap in prize money between the women and men’s competitions has increased. FIFA has not provided justification to explain the increase in the gap. The impact of women players receiving substantially less prize money is exacerbated by the fact that many players, including PFA members, are dependent on their income from their national team duties, in contrast to their male counterparts. Yet, FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, adopted in 2017, states that FIFA that FIFA “places particular emphasis on identifying and addressing differential impacts based on gender and on promoting gender equality”.

The Matildas made it through to the Round of 16, having beaten Brazil and Jamaica, before being knocked out by Norway. For their efforts, their prize money is $1 million. Had the Socceroos, the men’s team, made it to the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they would have won $12 million.

Football remains, along with cricket, one of the remaining sports which has not committed to equality in prize money. According to a recent BBC survey, 83% of sports have reached equality in world championship prize money. These include tennis, surfing, skiing, triathlon and track and field. 

The Opinion concludes that:

“…it is strongly arguable that FIFA’s decision to award significantly less prize money for the WWC, in comparison to the most recent men’s competition is a breach of Article 4 of its own FIFA’s Statutes, which prohibit gender discrimination and also a breach of Article 3 of the Statutes, which commits FIFA to respecting all internationally recognised human rights.” 

As the Opinion sets out, FIFA is obliged to adhere to its own Statutes and failure to do so provides a basis for seeking relief before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’), if the matter cannot be resolved within FIFA. However, the Opinion concludes that:

“[Arbitration] may be avoided if the dispute can be resolved by FIFA taking the steps to address this discrimination, in line with its obligations under the FIFA Statutes and its stated commitment to supporting women’s football and ensuring equal participation, and equal rights, for men and women.”

John Didulica, Chief Executive of the PFA, said:

“The PFA expressly reserves the rights of the players to have this matter resolved through appropriate means including mediation and arbitration. There is no legal, economic or practical reason why this cannot occur after the tournament."

Australian midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,

"I'm so proud of the PFA for taking the initiative…I hope that it gets the backing and the recognition it deserves. It's a legitimate case that we're putting forward."

Concern about gender discrimination in relation to pay for women professional footballers has received significant media coverage in the lead up to and during the WWC (see here, here and here). The PFA campaign has also attracted media coverage (see here, here and here).