Luis Rubiales may be facing the sack as head of Spain’s federation and a woman has taken charge of the national team for the first time, but Spain’s problems in the women’s game are far from over.
The start of Liga F has been hit by an unprecedented players’ strike as, since Friday, when Sevilla were meant to play Tenerife in the season-opener, Spain’s women footballers have been on a scheduled two-match hiatus over what they see as grossly discriminatory pay and conditions in their league compared to the men’s game.
Rubiales’ unconsented kiss of Spanish World Cup winner Jenni Hermoso spoiled what should have been a joyous national celebration of the team’s victory in Sydney, but it has also opened a window of opportunity for female players in Spain to roll back decades of underinvestment and discrimination.
“We have to take advantage of this moment,” said Amanda Gutiérrez, founder and president of the all-women union Futpro, which is one of several player representative bodies that have called their members out on strike over pay.
“Sadly in women’s football, a victory like this one in the World Cup is not only a moment of celebration, but rather we need to use it to win more rights. Hopefully, one day we will reach a stage where this isn’t necessary and we can just celebrate like the men do,” Gutiérrez told Telegraph Sport.
Many of Spain’s world-conquering women return this month to a league in which the lowest-paid earn little more than a Madrid or Barcelona waitress on minimum wage.
The current minimum salary in the first division of Liga F is €16,000 a year, less than what regional third-division male players command and almost 12 times lower than the minimum paid to players in the top flight of La Liga.
“We’re sorry we have to strike but we asked for a raise to €20,000 at this point last year and spent all season negotiating with no outcome,” said Gutiérrez.
Now the unions are asking for €25,000 a year starting this season, and €30,000 for next. The Liga F management has agreed to €20,000 so the gulf is still a major one.
For Gutiérrez, herself an amateur footballer before devoting herself to sports law and founding Futpro in 2021, the alleged assault on Hermoso and the battle against backwardness in the women’s game all stem from the same repository of age-old sexist attitudes.
“What happened to Jenni was not an isolated episode. It was part of a structural problem in women’s sport where many athletes continue to endure discriminatory conditions day in, day out. The only difference here was that millions of people were watching.”
‘Treat women as the professionals they are’
And it is not just about pay, the union leader explained, adding that Liga F management has refused to consider other demands until the minimum salary dispute is finalised.
Gutiérrez said many Spanish clubs still lack nursing rooms or childcare support for staff with babies, and travel arrangements often do not include a realistic plan to include young children.
She also accused Liga F of failing to protect players adequately from abuse and harassment, citing one club’s male coach who was found to have inflicted denigratory treatment on two-thirds of his women players but still remains in his post.
“The solution to all this is very simple: treat women as the professionals they are,” Ms Gutiérrez stated.
She cited FC Barcelona Femenino as the example of what a respectful environment for women players looks like and as a recipe for success, with the team having won the last four Spanish leagues and two of the past three Champions League trophies.
“They professionalised the management of the women’s team, set up the structures and facilities, started organising travel the right way and you see the results. Elsewhere, there are too many mediocre people running women’s football in Spain.”
Gutiérrez also praised England’s football authorities for getting on board with the female game, saying the Women’s Super League has become an international reference for quality.
“In the English league, the women are treated as pros and there has been investment. The product has been treated with loving care and that makes the difference in the end.”