This was the year football seemed to change: England actually did quite well in the World Cup, for a bit it even seemed as though it might be coming home, and then the Premier League appointed its first ever female chief executive.
As the one at the helm of an industry worth £3bn, Susanna Dinnage will become one of the few women at the top of British sport. But as she prepares to take over from Richard Scudamore, there are still questions to be answered as to why it has taken so long for women to enter higher positions in football.
If we take a trip back to 1920, the first women’s international game took place with an attendance of 25,000 people. A year later, however, women were banned by the FA from playing on Football League grounds, they were told “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”
Fast forward a few decades and women are no longer banned from playing professional football, but women’s football is still a talking point. During the 2018 World Cup, former editor of the Independent Simon Kelner, came under fire for saying in his column that women talking about World Cup games “is like getting a netball player to discuss major league basketball”. He also said “the world cup is competed for, exclusively, by men” (in fact, women have been competing in the Women’s Fifa World Cup every four years since 1991). He went on to say that “TV bosses sought to have women on the panel for reason of appearance rather than to satisfy a latent demand to hear their opinions. And isn’t that tokenism in and of itself?”
Kelner wrote his article after the BBC and ITV hired female footballers Eniola Aluko and Alex Scott respectively to serve as pundits for the broadcasters’ coverage of the tournament. Stylist writer Moya Crockett called both women “staggeringly accomplished” footballers. As Kelner’s intervention shows, though, even these star hires were not without controversy.
In June, forrmer Chelsea and Tottenham defender Jason Cundy declared on Good Morning Britain that he preferred to “hear a male voice when watching football. For 90 minutes a high-pitched tone isn’t what I want to hear, and when there’s a lot of drama I think it needs to be done in a slightly lower voice.” To which Times columnist Camilla Long responded: “You certainly cannot continue the pretence that football commentating is a complicated or sophisticated occupation that demands the involvement of a penis.”
The sad truth is, data collected by the UEFA shows that it isn’t only Cundy who has no time for women in football. In 2016-17, around 46 per cent of professional women’s football received media coverage on Facebook, 20 per cent on Youtube, 27 per cent on Twitter and Instagram, and 43 per cent on free-to-air television.
Women’s football does have mass appeal, however. Around 750 million television viewers watched the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2011. However, these numbers aren’t as high as the men’s football, where with a total of 3.43 billion people tuning in to watch it on their televisions, according to research conducted by Fifa.com.
When comparing salaries, in men’s footballs teams, most of the top players get on average £100,000 per week. Lionel Messi, the highest-paid footballer, receives $84m (£65m) a year.
The women’s salaries do not even come close. Brazilian striker Marta da Silva, of Orlando Pride appears to be the highest paid, with a salary of $315,000 (£245,000) per year. An article on the Manchester Evening News suggests that even with sponsors, a top level salary in the women’s game stands at around £70,000 a year – on a different level to the £300,000 a week Wayne Rooney earned in the Premier League.
While there are 137,021 male professional footballers in the world, there are only 1,287 female professionals. In the UK, players in the FA Women’s Super League receive an average of £26,752 a year while the men in the Premier League are paid an average of £2.64m.
On top of everything else, another challenge for women’s teams is the lack of funding. Even the teams at the top are extremely underfunded and rely on their male parent clubs for financial support. There are currently 11 teams in the Women’s Super League and only nine have accounts registered with Companies House. These show that only Birmingham and Everton made small profits in the financial year ending May and June 2017.
Some progress has been made, according to reasearch by Women in Sport. Women’s football now has its own distinct commercial partner programme, which is being sold separately to the men’s game. There are now four major commercial sponsors supporting women’s football in the UK, each with rights associated with a specific area of the game. BT Sport and Continental Tyres support the WSL, Vauxhall continues to support England Women and Nike is the exclusive kit sponsor.
Sally Horrox, managing partner at FA Consultants, says: “Women’s football offers a cost-effective entry to an increasingly valuable commercial property, which has a mass-market appeal linked strong with family values. It also guarantees media exposure (including TV) on a combination of terrestrial and other channels.
“There is a year-long narrative across every level of the sport, from grassroots participation, through top domestic leagues and on to elite international competition. Partners can also leverage affiliation with the FA and its established online following. And finally it has accessible and affordable player ambassadors working hard to communicate powerful messages.”
All this does is demonstrate that there is still a very long way to go to achieve gender equality in football. Dinnage is now one of nine women at the top of British sport, alongside sports worthies such as minister Mims Davies, UK sports chief executive Liz Nicholl and EFL interim chairwoman Debbie Jevans. But even with a woman in charge of the Premier League, there is a long way to go before the many other women in the sport are operating on a level playing field.