- The Irish football association recently agreed to equal match fees for the men’s and women’s national teams
- Vice-Captain Diane Caldwell says this is a life-changing achievement for many players
- The 33-year old defender remembers the fight that led to this historic moment
Four years ago, the players of Ireland’s women’s national team showed their emotions during a special media conference. They said the Irish football association (FAI) treated them like “fifth class citizens“, as it, until then, had refused to give the players any remuneration for the time they spent with the national team. The players didn’t even have a travel tracksuit and were practically begging for a 300-euro match fee, which they finally received after going public with their grievances.
Things have completely changed in Ireland. Starting with next week’s friendly international against Australia, the women’s team will receive the same match fees as the men’s team.
“It is a massive improvement in comparison to the 300-euro match fee that we had,” Diane Caldwell told FIFPRO.
“This deal is life-changing for everyone.”
Various players on the team are playing in Ireland’s Women’s National League, which is not professional. “All of these girls would be either in school or working,” said Caldwell, who plays for North Carolina Courage in the American NWSL.
“Now there is an opportunity to have a sustainable career in soccer. Hopefully, this puts an end to some players having to have a dual job.”
“And in general, it is a huge step in the right direction for women’s soccer around the globe.”
The agreement also includes that the men and women receive the same percentage of the bonus that the FAI would get from FIFA or UEFA if their team qualifies for a major tournament.
The deal was arranged with the help of the men’s national team, which agreed to a reduction of their own match fees. The FAI matched that reduction and added that to the women’s match fees.
“The support of the men was massive for us. It got the ball rolling,” Caldwell said. “We spoke with their captain, Seamus Coleman, and he spoke with the men’s team and said that it’s the right thing to do. The rest of the men’s team followed suit.”
“We hope this acts as an inspiration for other nations to show what can be achieve together.”
That inspiration however is not complete without recognizing the long fight that the women’s team and the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) had to undertake. For years, they were ignored by the previous management of the FAI.
“We were trying to break down a brick wall,” said Caldwell. “The stance we took in 2017 was the catalyst for achieving all of this. As a squad we bravely stood up, unified, and filed our grievances: lack of support, lack of remuneration, lack of proper kit, basically all of the normal stuff that would be expected for a national team. We threatened to go on strike if they weren’t willing to talk with us and come to a resolution.”
“All what we have achieved wouldn’t have been possible without taking that stance, without the roles of those previous players, without the current leadership group, and without the PFAI and FIFPRO.“
“I am proud that I was part of it, but to make that stance was really, really hard. Everything we achieved in 2017 was so difficult and draining mentally. It took its toll on everyone who was involved in that process. It wore us out. Everything now seems a lot easier, because now you have people talking for you and fighting for you, and standing up for you.”
Caldwell credits the new leadership of the FAI, which last week also announced a sponsorship deal with Sky Ireland, the first ever primary sponsor of the women’s team.
“When I heard it was Sky, that was massive. Sky is the leading sports channel in Ireland, they have all of the premium matches. They don’t have our matches yet, but that will probably happen in time. It says a lot that they even agreed this deal without having the rights to show our games.”
Caldwell, who made her debut for Ireland as a 17-year old in 2006, is looking forward to next week’s home game against Australia. “Now we are going in having achieved equal pay and for the first time feeling that we have the full support from the FAI behind us. We feel as one for the first time. That has been the association’s slogan this year, #WeAreOne, but for the first time, we truly feel like that.”
“The FAI is showing that they are transforming and becoming a progressive association. We have a great working relationship now with the new CEO, Jonathan Hill, who recognizes us as being an inspiration to young girls.”
“Right now we just have to focus on getting to a major tournament, to focus on our performances. It is a personal goal of mine to qualify for a tournament. It would be amazing to get to a World Cup or Euros.”
“But the biggest winners from this deal are the future young girls of Ireland. They now have an equal opportunity and an equal chance to fulfil their footballing dreams.”