England prides itself as football’s birthplace, but any hubris on this score is mixed with a certain humility, as the nation also views itself as perhaps the least impressive of the sport’s best performers (an echelon that includes Germany, Argentina, Spain, Italy and Brazil). Following the Three Lions’ knockout in the 2014 World Cup, a forlorn country needed a new hope to root for. It came along a year later, during the women’s World Cup. England’s ladies finished third in the 2015 tournament, even knocking out the nation’s arch rival, Germany.
With the State Council advocating football as a core component in China’s economic development, it seems Beijing’s soccer aspirations might first be realised by the country’s female players. Known as the Steel Roses, they last week secured a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The men’s team, meanwhile, won’t make it to Brazil,after the Chinese U23 team suffered a damaging 1-3 loss in January to Syria (yes, you read that correctly).
The Steel Roses qualified after drawing 1-1 in a game with Australia, seeing them finish in second place in their group. In fact, with three victories ahead of the match, the team had already qualified for Rio. Commenting on the game, coach Bruno Bini said, “We had hoped to go to Rio as top of the group, but Australia played well today. We performed well. If we continue to perform well like that, everything would be good.”
Following the formality of the match against Australia, news portal Guancha reported that the China Football Association intended to present the women’s football team with a cash reward. The sum, Guancha believed, was to be “over Rmb5 million, perhaps even as high as Rmb8 million”. For a team where the average player has a salary of just Rmb3,000 ($460) per week, this looks to be a welcome bonus.
It was the news of the reward that renewed debate about the team’s low salary and sparked ire among Chinese football fans, who used it to yet again chide the underachieving, overpaid male team. One popular online comment begins with a sigh and continues: “There has always been inequality between men and women; the men’s team play like dog crap yet they still earn so much.”
“President Xi said his dream is that one day China could win the World Cup. But he hasn’t specified whether this is the Women’s World Cup?” an internet user helpfully reminds football fans.
Indeed, the men’s national team has suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in recent years. Apart from failing to qualify for the Olympics, China’s hope of making the 2018 World Cup in Russia was all but extinguished after two scoreless draws with Hong Kong. China now ranks 96th in the world, whilst the women’s team weighs in at 17 in their own rankings.
The female squad earned their stripes in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, finishing the tournament with a silver medal. China also came a kick away from winning the Women’s World Cup in 1999, losing 4-5 to the host nation America on penalties.
But as news website Guancha divulges, many of the female footballers have to take on other jobs to supplement their meagre salaries.
So it may come as no surprise that rather than present the women’s team with a one-off award, many think they should be offered a pay raise instead, the People’s Daily says. Certainly with Chinese football clubs spending unprecedented amounts on costly foreign talent (see WiC313), the discrepancy between pay for a female footballer and her male counterpart has become all the more pronounced.
The Steel Roses’ achievement in reaching Rio has gained them national attention; if they perform well in the summer perhaps it will lead to even louder calls for their salaries to be upped to levels more in line with what the men make.
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