Women’s football clubs call for compensation when young players lured to UK

Irish clubs missing out due to lack of payments long established in men’s game

Women’s soccer clubs are calling on the FAI to seek an end to a “discriminatory rule” which they say is depriving them of tens of thousands of euro and could threaten their survival.

Top teams in the Women's National League (WNL) are losing increasing numbers of star players to British professional clubs but getting no "training compensation" in return, in contrast to the men's clubs.

“Training compensation” is paid by professional clubs upon signing a player from an amateur club, in acknowledgment of their investment in the player - often since they were a child.

Football’s international governing body, Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Associations), sets specific rates for training compensation depending on the category of the two clubs involved.

Since 2017 however, Article 20 of Fifa’s regulations on the status and transfer of players specifies compensation should only to be paid for male players. It argued mandating compensation for women players would stifle development of the women’s game, given its far smaller audiences at the time.

There remains a huge gulf between the finances of the men’s a women’s games at the highest levels but many of the clubs at the very top are the same with the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in England, for instance, running successful women’s teams that have very significantly grown revenues in recent seasons.

Though they too have grown, player salaries remain a fraction of those in the men’s game. One of the key arguments against a requirement for substantial training payments for young women players had been that the ability of the players to negotiate better pay rates could be impacted, as it sometimes is in the men’s game, especially at clubs slightly below the highest level, by the buying club effectively factoring them into the overall cost of recruiting the player in question.

The main Irish clubs with women's teams have significantly increased budgets including investment in the development of young players but funds remain desperately scarce and Shelbourne FC is just the latest club to lose out with winger Jessica Ziu (19) leaving to join West Ham United in July.

Ziu, who has been with Shelbourne since she was 12, is the club’s sixth player to sign with a British team in the last 18 months.

If she had been playing for the men’s team Shelbourne would be entitled to €415,000 training compensation, but because she is part of the women’s game the club gets nothing.

‘Don’t even have to ask’

Peamount United, founding WNL team and inaugural winners in 2011, have lost three of their top players to British clubs in the past 18 months. When their star striker, Eleanor Ryan-Doyle signed with Birmingham City last summer they didn't even get an email from the British side, says club chairperson Katie Thompson. "The British clubs don't even have to ask us. We get nothing," she says.

Shelbourne chief executive David O’Connor said of the six players they lost four went to what are known as “category one” clubs.

“The level of compensation, had they been male players, would have been quite significant.

“We are incredibly proud of our young women players and would never want to stand in the way of them developing their careers, but we are at a point now where something has it be done to protect grass roots clubs like us, to ensure they continue to develop elite athletes.”

Levels of compensation would not be as high for women players, given lower revenue streams into the women's game, as for men. However, he said, audiences were growing and money was now beginning to flow into the Women's Super League (WSL) in Britain, which last year signed a three-year rights deal with Sky Sports. It was "unfair" British teams could "effectively come here and pinch our best players for free".

Ms Thompson was “delighted for the girls” when they were signed, saying: “It’s their dream”. Her “biggest fear” however was that without a mechanism to compensate Irish women’s clubs, “we could be wiped out”. Currently, “we’re like a nursery for the English teams”.

WNL clubs would “collectively lobby the FAI to raise it, on the clubs’s behalf, with Fifa” said Mr O’Connor.

Mark Scanlon, director of the FAI's league of Ireland said the association was aware of the WNL clubs' concerns. "The FAI is supportive of the desire of our SSE Airtricity Women's National League clubs to see Fifa make real change on this issue."

A Fifa spokeswoman said the body was “very much aware” of the issue and was “taking steps” to address it.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

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