Just six weeks before some of the world’s most talented footballers take to the stage for Euro 2022, a seismic event has happened in the United States.
For years, members of the US women’s national team had fought for equal pay, before filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer in March 2019.
The players suffered criticism and numerous knockbacks, but they finally achieved their aim. After agreeing a $22 million (£16.2 million) settlement with US Soccer in February, new collective bargaining agreements were announced last week.
The men and women’s teams will now pool their World Cup prize money, along with their share of television and sponsorship revenues.
Female players will also compete at the same venues, stay in hotels of the same standard, and be given an equal number of charter flights as their male counterparts.
Euro 2022 will be held against the backdrop of a new age for women’s football across the Atlantic Ocean. As such, there is likely to be increased scrutiny on the offerings available for this summer’s tournament, even though the US will not be involved.
Well, it’s good news and bad news. As part of its women’s football strategy, Time For Action, UEFA has doubled the prize pot for Euro 2022.
The 16 teams will share a total of €16 million (£13.6 million), with the winner receiving €2.4 million (£2 million). The runners-up will get €2 million (£1.7 million) and the semi-finalists €1.4 million (£1.2 million) each.
In addition, a clubs benefit programme was introduced for the first time, with €4.5 million (£3.8 million) available to the European teams releasing players for the tournament.
When considering the €8 million (£6.8 million) prize pot which was on offer at Euro 2017, the amount of cash up for grabs at Euro 2022 seems reason to celebrate. Until a comparison is made with the men’s tournament, that is.
There was a mammoth €371 million (£316 million) prize pot available for Euro 2022, bumped up from an astonishing €304 million (£259 million) fund for Euro 2016.
Winners Italy took home €34 million (£29 million) in prize money, while runners-up England pocketed a handsome sum of €29.8 million (£25.3 million).
So yes, the winners of the men’s tournament last year earned more than double the entire prize pot made available for the women’s event this year.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was one of many to highlight this disparity, urging UEFA to go further than doubling the prize money from Euro 2017 to Euro 2022.
“It’s not enough money,” she said. “When you consider it and look at it relatively, it’s nowhere near the amount of money that’s needed.
“Prize money is what has a huge impact in the men’s game and I think it’s a gesture that needs to be raised and considered.”
She was backed by Ada Hegerberg, who has been absent from the international stage since 2017 after she decided to protest Norway’s treatment of its women’s football team.
The 2018 Ballon d’Or Féminin winner has since made peace with the Norwegian Football Federation, and will represent her country at Euro 2022. But she has remained outspoken on issues around equality in football.
“Emma Hayes made a comment on that topic, and she is absolutely right,” Hegerberg said. “I am a player and from my perspective my job is to perform.
“But what is important in this subject is we are not in a position where we should be thankful about everything that is given to us.
“I know without performance nothing follows after, but that doesn’t mean you have to be thankful. Some things should be a bare minimum.”
Hegerberg is right. Events in the US have shown that female players should not settle for any less than they deserve. They should always demand more until equality is reached.
UEFA may have doubled the prize pot for Euro 2022, but the disparity with the men’s tournament is still vast. This gives the impression that female players are valued less, and discourages national federations from investing in their women’s teams.
This is despite the unmistakable increase in popularity of the women’s game. More than 91,600 fans packed into the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona in the Women’s Champions League, while millions have been tuning into the Women’s Super League across the BBC and Sky Sports.
It’s been shown that women’s football is commercially viable, and now, to be given a real chance to develop and grow, the prize fund for international tournaments must be drastically increased. It is not the time to be grateful for the bare minimum.