Frank de Boer’s Misguided Comments on Equal Pay

Posted By Harrison Hamm on August 14, 2019

Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer made headlines on Tuesday for saying that equal pay between male and female soccer players is “ridiculous.”

In an interview with The Guardian, he compared the situation to tennis and asserted that women’s soccer is significantly less popular, and thus federations should not pay players equally. Here is his full quote:

“I think for me, it’s ridiculous. It’s the same like tennis. If there are watching, for the World Cup final, 500 million people or something like that, and 100 million for a women’s final, that’s a difference. So it’s not the same. And of course they have to be paid what they deserve to [earn] and not less, just what they really deserve. If it’s just as popular as the men, they will get it, because the income and the advertising will go into that. But it’s not like that, so why do they have to earn the same? I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t understand that.”

– Frank de Boer to The Guardian

He went on to say that he supports equal pay in the workplace, but not in sports. His comments angered a good number of fans, many of whom are supporters of the USWNT, which is currently arguing for equal pay on the heels of a second consecutive World Cup win. Atlanta United president Darren Eales didn’t seem pleased with de Boer’s thoughts on the matter.

De Boer’s clumsy comments miss the mark

At the front of any equal pay argument is that women’s soccer (or sports in general) is not as popular as men’s sports. In the case of tennis, which de Boer brought up, that case is patently false. Female tennis players players alongside male tennis players and garner similar attention and fame. Soccer is different, in that it’s difficult to argue that women’s soccer is currently as popular as men’s soccer in the aggregate.

But saying that women’s soccer isn’t popular is obviously wrong. TV ratings were high for the 2019 World Cup. At times it was even higher than the 2018 WC, particularly in the United States, where the USWNT were the talk of the town. Crowds were big and a lot of people paid attention:

Pay should of course be determined by how popular the team is, and how much revenue it generates. In the case of the USWNT, it is very popular and generates a pretty good amount of revenue.

Soccer federations should keep perspective. As Tutul Rahman noted in his Twitter thread on the subject, women’s soccer is growing rapidly. Think of equal pay as an investment — by rewarding the very popular players fairly, you incentivize more such stars to come through the system and continue to spike the popularity of the game.

Growing women’s soccer should be embraced by FIFA

For organizations like US Soccer and FIFA, who are correctly perceived as at best misguided and at worst damagingly corrupt, the decision to pay the superstar women’s soccer players shouldn’t be especially difficult. Women’s soccer is a unique opportunity for these federations — particularly FIFA — to grow the game significantly. It’s a chance to reach new populations, to construct a new cash cow to go right alongside the current cash cow that is men’s soccer. Why wouldn’t FIFA want to do that?

If all of that is not enough, consider it from a moral perspective. These players would be a lot more popular if FIFA marketed them capably, and if national federations invested more in academies and domestic leagues. Women’s soccer players face a ton of disadvantages globally.

US Soccer would clearly not be as profitable as it is without the USWNT. The men’s national team is less successful in its arena, due to the base of global talent it has to compete with. The USWNT are pioneers, and go out and win trophies. America loves winners, and thus loves its successful women’s national team. US Soccer would do well to give them their due.

De Boer could afford to be a bit more sympathetic (and maybe a bit less ignorant) in this case. 

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