PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — It’s a story that should serve as an example to the vast majority of national soccer federations around the world—but if you’re using it to put leverage on U.S. Soccer, you should probably think again.
On Friday, the Norwegian FA announced that it had reached a new collective bargaining agreement, starting in 2018, in which the men’s national team players had agreed to give up 550,000 kroner ($69,000) a year in marketing payments to the women’s national team.
As part of the changes, the Norwegian FA will nearly double its fixed payments to the women’s national team, bringing them to 6 million kroner ($751,000) per year—the exact same amount that the men’s team will receive (down from 6.55 million kroner a year in the previous men’s contract).
On Sunday, Joachim Walltin—the president of the Norwegian players union, which represents the men’s and women’s national soccer teams, as well as those for handball and ice hockey—explained exactly what the new agreement contains, as well as what it doesn’t.
“It was the FA’s own idea to do it equally 100 percent, and they asked if we could make it exactly 6 million Norwegian kroner for both,” Walltin told SI.com. “When we asked the men’s team to say if they wanted to contribute to this equality it was quite easy, because they earn so much more in their clubs. That’s their main income. They know the women’s players need [the federation income] more and it will make a difference for them—especially players in the Norwegian women’s league. All of them are studying or working besides football, and it’s no doubt that will affect their performance. This could make them more professional. It makes me proud to see how proud they are.”
Walltin estimated that national team players in the Norwegian women’s league earn between $12,000 and $24,000 a year from their clubs, while the team’s best players in France and Germany are earning around $100,000 to 150,000 a year from their clubs. (The men’s national team players are earning far higher salaries with their club teams.)
On her Instagram page, Norwegian national team player Caroline Graham Hansen posted a photograph of the men’s national team and the following:
“This was maybe a small thing for you to do for us. This will maybe not show in your monthly wages. This was maybe an obvious move for you to do! This though means everything for us! For our team! For our sport! But not at least for all the female athletes out there, who does the same work, same sport as men's do, but get paid less! For you to say that equal pay is how it should be, makes me wanna cry! Makes me wanna hug you all! Thank you for making this step for female athletes. For showing equality and for helping us all, making it a bit easier, to chase our dreams. To make them come true! RESPECT #equalgame#equalpay”
But in terms of how it relates to the discussion around equal pay in U.S. soccer, it’s also important to note that Norway’s new collective bargaining agreement does not bring pure equal pay in a highly lucrative area: Performance bonuses that come with qualifying for the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship. In that area, Norway’s new bonus payments would be described as *equitable* but not *equal*. According to Walltin, both the Norwegian men’s and women’s teams will receive 25 percent of what the Norwegian FA earns from FIFA and UEFA for qualifying for and performance in their gender’s respective World Cup and Euro.
But the prize money that FIFA and UEFA give for those tournaments—which mostly reflects the revenue they currently produce—is far greater for the men than for the women. The German federation received $35 million from FIFA for winning the men’s World Cup in 2014; U.S. Soccer received $2 million from FIFA for winning the women’s World Cup in 2015.
Walltin said he hoped Norway’s agreement to have equal fixed payments would put “more pressure on UEFA and FIFA to increase the revenue stream they pay out on the women’s side.” He added that another goal was to set an example for other national soccer federations around the world, the vast majority of which treat their women’s soccer programs poorly compared to their men’s teams. “It makes a signal for other countries,” Walltin said. “We know the income increase will make a difference [for the women’s players], but also important is the feeling of being really recognized and respected.”
Women’s national teams around the world have been pushing harder than ever lately for better support from their federations. In Brazil, the federation president has agreed to meet with current and former Brazilian women’s players this week to discuss their long list of grievances against the CBF. In Denmark, a recent home women’s friendly against the Netherlands was canceled over a money dispute. In Australia, the women’s team has pushed back hard against the federation in recent labor talks.
And in the United States, of course, the World Cup champion women’s team pushed publicly for pure equal pay to the U.S. men before compromising to sign a new collective bargaining agreement earlier this year that both sides agreed to call “*equitable* compensation.” One big structural difference between the CBAs of the U.S. women and men is that U.S. Soccer pays the NWSL club salaries of most WNT players in addition to their national team compensation; U.S. Soccer does not pay the club salaries of any MNT players.
However, a complaint filed by five USWNT players with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency, remains in effect and awaiting a resolution. The EEOC complaint accuses U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination in relation to the money the federation pays to the U.S. men’s national team players.
The Norwegian men last qualified for a World Cup in 1998 and have been eliminated from qualifying for World Cup 2018. The Norwegian women, who won the World Cup in 1995, are expected to qualify for the next World Cup in 2019. Both Norwegian national teams have seen their performance levels decline in recent years, though.
Ultimately, the news in Norway is a positive development for the growth of women’s soccer, and it may be the first example anywhere of men’s national team players agreeing to a pay cut and giving up money—even if it was just $69,000—to their country’s women’s national team players. The message of a federation paying equal fixed salaries is a strong one. Such agreements are certainly helped by the fact that Norway’s men’s and women’s players are represented by the same organization—as opposed to the separate unions that represent the U.S. men’s and women’s players and negotiate their CBAs independently of each other in different years.
But the biggest change will come when FIFA, its confederations and its member associations decide to invest tens of millions more dollars on the front end in women’s soccer and unlock the potential that is clearly there—instead of simply basing their financial decisions on previous and current revenue production. And that includes addressing the yawning gap in prize money at the World Cup and other important tournaments.
Last year, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was asked in an interview with SI.com about the reasons for such a big difference in prize money and whether he thinks that situation should change.
Infantino responded: “Today there is such a big difference because the prize money—which for me is a different topic than the salary or the pay—but the prize money today is linked with the revenues that are generated. So for me, while I understand and respect the position in the U.S., women’s football in the U.S. is not yet comparable to what women’s football should be around the world. So what our task must be is to develop women’s football, to invest much more. Of course the adjustment of the prize money goes with that as well.”
“It’s a process,” Infantino continued. “But we need to make sure that we can lift up the popularity of women’s football all around the world to make sure that we don’t focus only on one or the other country and forget all the others. In the same way as it was done the last 100 years for men’s football, because this also has been a process. We have now to embrace this process for women’s football, to see how we can foster the top but also the base of women’s football.”
One of the most important criteria for Infantino’s success or failure in his job should be how he oversees the growth of the women’s game around the world during his time in charge of FIFA.