At the Women’s World Cup there are players from 24 national teams competing in the leagues of 34 different countries. Where are the best conditions to be a woman and play football professionally?
73 of the current 552 players at the Women’s World Cup train at U.S. clubs when they are not competing for their countries’ teams. Not surprisingly, conditions there are clearly better, from facilities to salaries to public attention.
These factors contribute to the fact that most elite players are concentrated in a few countries. “Many women change teams because they are looking for new challenges and opportunities for improvement,” Gitta Axmann of the Institute for Sociology and Gender Research at the German University of Cologne tells DW.
In addition to sporting reasons, her decision is also related to the conditions surrounding her work. There are many teams that can barely afford a coach, travel allowances, and even balls and trainers.
Soccer clubs in the United States are often at the top of international rankings, which may be partly due to the fact that “men’s soccer is barely established there,” says Axmann. “Men’s football is regarded as a sport in its own right. That’s why women don’t have to compete with the men’s teams for attention, as is the case elsewhere.
The players of some teams in the Women’s World Cup are almost all “mercenaries” of football, that is, they have contracts with foreign teams.
This is the case, for example, with the Jamaican national team: none of their players play for teams in their own country, most of them in the United States, some in Norway and some in Italy. The team, called “Reggae Girlz,” was already eliminated during the group stage.
Given the circumstances of the sport in their country, the fact that the “Reggae Girlz” made it to the Women’s World Cup is a major achievement.
Jamaica has only three million inhabitants and football there is far from being the people’s favourite sport. Lack of interest and prejudice against women’s football have even made it difficult for the “Reggae Girlz” to have their own fan club.
Moreover, the Jamaican Football Federation has already disbanded the women’s team on several occasions due to lack of money and success. But in recent years, it has been supported by Cedella Marley, the daughter of the famous singer Bob Marley. Her initiative has ensured that the team receives attention and financial support.
In a New York Times poll, some Jamaican players confessed to earning only a few hundred dollars in the past year from football. One even claimed to have won absolutely nothing.
League problems in retaining players
In other countries, the situation seems to be less serious, but there are similar stories in many places. In Brazil, the Netherlands and Canada, more than half of the players on their teams compete in leagues in other countries. In the Nigerian national team, all the players were born in the country, but only seven of them train at Nigerian clubs.
Of course there are also these fluctuations in men’s football. In your case, changes in country often indicate where there are better economic and sporting conditions. “Even in Germany I know elite women’s footballers who had to give up football because they couldn’t make a living from it,” says Axmann.
Sacrifices to play in the best leagues
Playing in another country means leaving behind friends, family and home. French defender Wendie Renard was born in Martinique. As she told the New York Times, her biggest sacrifice to football was “leaving my family to go to France when I was 14 and a half. Countries like France, the United Kingdom and Spain have become attractive destinations for players in recent years.
Spain, for example, has improved its position in women’s football, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 2015. Currently, there are 51 players from 12 different national teams playing for Spanish clubs. Spain made headlines in 2019, when the 60,739 fans of the women’s league were able to attend a match between Atlético de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the iconic Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
According to Gitta Axmann, the support of the men’s teams is very important for such successes: “Just being able to use a men’s club stadium, such as Atletico de Madrid, can be a great help,” she says.
The Women’s World Cup is proof of the positive transformations the sport is undergoing. For Axmann, it is a process that cannot be reversed.