BY CRAIG STEPHEN
Given that New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, it is only apt that its national football federation has announced pay parity between the menâ€™s and womenâ€™s football teams.
It isnâ€™t a world first, but it isnâ€™t far off either. Late last year Norway (of course) announced a similar deal.
Under the new deal, New Zealandâ€™s top women footballers will get equal pay, the same amount of prize money, equal rights for image use and business class travel.
The flying perk in itself will be a massive boon to those who have a long way to go to represent their country.
Fernsâ€™ captain Ali Riley has to make a 38-hour journey from Malmo in Sweden, where she plays her football, to Wellington, for the game against Japan this month. Her fear of flying is a clear barrier to such long-haul hikes but Riley feels the new deal will make the trek more amenable.
â€œI usually have this feeling of dread. But knowing that I will be flying there in more comfort, we will arrive in much better condition and in better spirits,â€ she says.
Colleague Sarah Gregorius, who has played in England, Germany and Japan, also knows the difficulties posed by flying cheaply.
â€œWhen you arrive, you are a zombie and have difficulties functioning. Your muscles are tight from being cramped up so long. It takes three to four days to be able to train properly. If you have to play a game a couple of days after landing, your performance will only be at 70 or 80 percent of your ability.â€
New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin made some welcoming remarks following the announcement, saying the Fernsâ€™ contribution to football in the country should be recognised.
But Martinâ€™s hand has been forced, from both the menâ€™s team and the womenâ€™s players.
For a start, the deal partly continues other recent moves. In the past few years, several common benefits have been negotiated for both teams, including a daily payment of NZ$115 and a share of 40 percent of any FIFA prize money won.
Therefore, there was a platform to stand on already for the negotiations that began in November.
Not a leg to stand on
This was clearly a moral cause but there could have been legal ramifications, in an environment where equal pay is being sought across all working sectors.
Wellington-based Victoria Casey QC, a leading expert in human rights and pay equality, notes that New Zealand Football may well have been put in a position where they had to act.
â€œNew Zealand Football is lucky they are being asked to discuss and negotiate this rather than being taken through the courts because they donâ€™t have a leg to stand on,â€ she says.
Until now the only income many of New Zealandâ€™s top female footballers earned was the daily payment for the six to eight weeks they are together a year, which has been so low that a number of players have applied for hardship grants or just quit.
Among those retiring from international competition is ten-time international Jasmine Pereira who walked away at the age of 20 citing the lack of financial support. “I feel like I couldn’t put my whole mindset into football because I was worrying about external stuff, that was hard,” Pereira said.
And Abby Erceg retired from international football, in February 2017, after gaining 129 caps in 11 years and appeared in three World Cups.
In quitting, the US-based star said players had struggled to maintain high standards with minimal financial assistance from New Zealand Football.
This isnâ€™t just about those at the top: itâ€™s an age-wide issue. Football participation rates in New Zealand for both girls and boys are substantial between the ages of 5â€“14 but that starts to drop away significantly for girls in their mid to late teenage years. That situation isnâ€™t helped by the drummed-in belief that girls should focus on netball.
Wood: share the money
Somewhat surprisingly, New Zealand Football was also being pressurised into making a move by its top menâ€™s players.
All Whitesâ€™ striker and Burnley star Chris Wood, who is a member of the New Zealand Professional Playersâ€™ Association, said he had a keen understanding of the issue through his sister Chelseyâ€™s experience.
â€œShe went to two Under-20 World Cups and is one of the best players of her generation. The road for her to success was so much harder because she was a woman â€“ playing in a part of the game which isnâ€™t as highly regarded, or supported, as it should be.
â€œI know the menâ€™s team brings in more revenue. But the women bring in more exposure to New Zealand football because they are at the World Cup on a more regular basis and have done extremely well against top nation sides like France, Sweden and Spain. We, the men, very rarely get to play top teams.
â€œWe bring in a good chunk of revenue, but we believe that revenue should be split between both menâ€™s and womenâ€™s football.â€
Late last year, Norway came up with an agreement that would see men and women receiving the same financial compensation for representing their country.
The Norwegian FA announced it would almost double the remuneration pot for women, from 3.1 million Norwegian kroner to 6 million kroner. This includes a contribution of 550,000 kroner by the menâ€™s players.
In Australia in November 2017, a deal was negotiated for players competing in the national W-League which included provision of a single room and airfare for a child travelling with their mother and for contract payments to continue in the event of a pregnancy.
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