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England’s Lionesses park controversial bonus row on eve of Women’s World Cup

The England players have made clear their disappointment with the FA amid tense discussions over pay

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Tuesday 18 July 2023 15:25 BST
England’s Millie Bright in training in Australia this week
England’s Millie Bright in training in Australia this week (The FA via Getty Images)

The England women’s team took the decision to pause controversial negotiations over World Cup bonuses in order to show it was “on their terms”, but also make clear their anger and disappointment with the Football Association over an issue that could have developed into a huge distraction on the eve of the tournament.

There is similarly a determination the issue isn’t parked once the competition ends, and that the federation have got the message over how payment structures need to be clarified going forward.

There has still been some debate over the merits of the strategy, particularly as the FA had already been insistent that all discussions be delayed until after the campaign. While that could be seen as bending to what the association want, there is also the risk now that the England squad lose their leverage in the event of going out of the competition unexpectedly early.

The dispute most directly comes from the players’ feeling that the FA should top up the guaranteed Fifa prize money with performance-related bonuses, in the same way that similar elite sides like Australia and USA do. The wider context is nevertheless a frustration that the squad went through the same issues over Euro 2022, and that has only belatedly been resolved, rather than immediately after the competition in the way that had been promised then.

That is why there has been scepticism throughout these negotiations. The players ultimately feel there has not been sufficient clarity or transparency through any of the process. That is the major point of contention for the players, and feeds into why the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has been pushing for a collective bargaining agreement, in the same way that American and Australian players have.

For its part, the FA has argued that the full budget for an expensive trip will not be known until afterwards, while there has been some concern that this is being pushed by agents and the PFA, who are representing the players in this. A different position has also been that not all the discussions should become about prize money, since this is supposed to be about the “holistic” growth of the women’s game, too.

That is also why the players took the unprecedented decision to release a statement on the eve of a World Cup, however, in order to show they have been pushing it and they are “disappointed” with the association and make a stand that women’s teams shouldn’t constantly have to battle for everything.

“Last year we presented the FA with concerns relating to our bonus and commercial structures,” a statement by the entire squad read. “The hope was that discussions would lead to a solution before the commencement of our World Cup.

The Lionesses train in Brisbane (PA)

“We are disappointed that a resolution has still not been achieved. We view the successful conclusions of these discussions, through player input and a transparent long term plan, as key for the growth of Women’s Football in England. With our opening game on the horizon, we Lionesses have decided to pause discussions, with full intentions of revisiting them following the tournament.

“We collectively feel a strong sense of responsibility to grow the game. And while our focus now switches fully to the tournament ahead, we believe every tackle, pass, and goal, will contribute to the work we are committed to doing off the pitch. We look forward to playing for our country this World Cup, with pride, passion, and perseverance. Thank you for your support, Your Lionesses.”

That move has at least staved off the possibility of a damaging “civil war” that could negatively affect what can be a historic competition for the England team, although some in the game have questioned why they didn’t fully use their considerable leverage. This is also the matter of some debate, however. While the presumption would be that national heroes and European champions would enjoy public support against a bureaucratic federation, online discussion has so far been mixed, with a lot of discussion about the women’s game potentially going the same financially driven way as the men.

The players have naturally been intent on completely ignoring this, of course, and the main concern is now ensuring they maximise an opportunity to make history in Australia and New Zealand.

The feeling is that they have asserted themselves by parking this on their terms, and also making it publicly clear how aggravated they are by the FA’s stance.

It is an issue that will now be put off until the World Cup campaign ends – although it could well be dictated by how the tournament pans out.

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