By Rachel Smethers, Adviser to Harriet Harman MP and player for Lush Lyfe FC

“With all eyes on this year’s World Cup women in football are demanding pay equality. We must no longer let them be second-class citizens...”

We‘re all pumped for the Women’s World Cup which kicks off in France this month. The sound of “3 Lions” humming on the summer breeze. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of lager being chucked in Hyde Park as the Lionesses surge to victory. Cooking like a steamed ham in the inevitable heatwave. I for one can barely contain myself.

Following the Lionesses lifting the She Believes Cup in March, the explosion of grassroots women’s football here and abroad over the past 4 years – and the unforgettable achievement of Gareth’s men last summer, this is the most excitement and anticipation ahead of a women’s tournament ever.

It feels like the first time women’s and men’s football are sharing an equal stage.

Well, almost.

The prize money for last year’s men’s World Cup (£314m) is more than 10 times what the women will get this summer (£23.5m). 

To put that further into perspective Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly earned twice that playing for Real Madrid in 2018.

After years of pressure and sacrifices from women footballers, headlines this week suggested that Fifa has agreed to negotiate to “narrow the gender pay gap”… after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. 

While we congratulate the women who have pushed this and who have made remarkable progress, including the Aussie national team who have demanded a doubling of the pot to £45m, just doubling the pot or ‘narrowing’ the gap is not enough. We are talking about one of the most profitable industries in the world. With the right will the gender pay gap could be fixed overnight.

Going into this year’s tournament in France the 2019 BBC’s Women’s Footballer of the Year, Lyon’s Ada Hergerberg, has used her platform to make the deeply tragic decision to boycott international football to pressure her home football governing body in Norway to pay their women and men equally.

And we face the unimaginable situation where the reigning world champions, the USA, arrive in France withan ongoing lawsuit against their own their own football governing body over the “institutionalised gender discrimination” of unequal pay.


People argue that the women’s game brings much less money in. But the shocking discrepancies between male and female top earners is both morally wrong and economically illiterate if we want the beautiful game to continue to grow.

And is a great disrespect to the hard work, endurance and professionalism of top women athletes.

Women play fewer sets in tennis, but we have long accepted it is right to reward equal prize pots in Grand Slams. FIFA should demand all countries publish the pay gap of their national teams and set targets to close them. UEFA could do the same for the Champions Leagues. 

Last month we were all rightly fizzing when Pep Guardiola, Manchester City’s manager, was asked by a journo how he felt about winning the first ever domestic treble in English football and replied: “The first time in men’s football. The women have won it.” Brilliant.

But what if Pep had gone one further and said…‘and that’s why I think men and women should get the same prize money at the top level’. Imagine the difference that could be made if the stars of the men’s game, arguably the most influential people in the world, backed up women players.

While the men’s England captain Harry Kane earns £200,000 a week for Tottenham, the women’s captain Steph Houghton reportedly earns £1,250 a week for Man City.

The average annual salary in the UK Women’s Super League is just £27,000 a year. Most Premier League footballers earn that in a week.

How can that be right?

This is no doubt the most exciting time ever for women in the beautiful game. And national economies and big companies from advertisers to broadcasters to breweries are set to make a pretty penny from the skill and creativity on show in France.

Women in football are demanding equality. Let’s repay them this summer by backing them up.


Rachel Smethers is Adviser to Harriet Harman MP and plays for Lush Lyfe FC in London. Follow her and her team on Twitter at @RachelSmethers @LushLyfeFC