Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) today marked the centenary of International Women’s Day by restating its commitment to the advancement of the status of Australia’s elite women footballers…
…with Matildas skipper Melissa Barbieri speaking at a training day conducted by the PFA’s community partner – the National Union of Workers – at Victoria’s Parliament House to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

The year of the centenary coincides with an important year for the women’s game in Australia, with the Matildas due to participate in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany in June and July.

Matildas Captain Melissa Barbieri emphasised the commitment Australia’s leading footballers have made to achieve the standing that the Matildas enjoy today as the champions of Asia and quarter finalists at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.

“All players make a huge financial sacrifice in the pursuit of their playing career, which, whilst a labour of love, makes huge professional demands of us,” Barbieri said.  “If we are to maintain and improve Australia’s competitiveness in the world game, it is essential that we can commit to our career with financial security.  At a minimum, the sport must do everything it can to lessen the hardship caused by our devotion to the game.”

In February, the PFA and Football Federation Australia (FFA) signed a 3 year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the Matildas, which covers the players through to the World Cup and until after the 2012 London Olympics.

The CBA provides semi-professional benefits for the players, with a 3 tier contract structure providing annual retainers of: (1) $30,810; (2) $21,567; and (3) $12,324.  In addition, the players receive match payments for official tournaments and a share of prize money and any sponsor and licensing payments generated through on-field achievements.

PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said that whilst some significant progress has been made through the CBA which stacks up well against similar deals for women in other Australian sports, a lot more needs to be done to further the interests of its women members.

“The CBA is a step toward our major goal of securing 23 full-time jobs for Australia’s elite women footballers,” Schwab said.  “This will provide a dream for every young girl who plays the game and is something we hope to achieve in the next round of bargaining.

“The CBA currently reflects the fact that the players are semi-professional in the sense of the number of hours they spend together in camp.  It does not yet reflect the reality that a player must make a full-time commitment to her profession in order to arrive at camp ready to perform in world class competition.”

In support of the semi-professional work environment, the PFA actively helps players in preparing for a career outside of football, with the CBA mandating an employer recognition program.  In addition, nearly all Matildas have taken advantage of the PFA Education Fund recently receiving 32 grants worth just under $40,000 to pursue advanced courses of study.

The wide variety of career options being pursued by players include aeronautical science, pilot training, nursing, secondary teaching, criminology, psychiatric science and podiatry.

Schwab says the PFA’s experience in representing elite women athletes has proven to be very challenging, with football continuing to question some basic rights easily afforded men.

“The first challenge is to increase the status of the elite women footballer, because things will change quickly once that is done,” he said.

“For example, FFA conducts two elite amateur competitions: the National Youth League for young men; and the W-League for adult women.  The PFA quickly negotiated allowances between $2,500 and $5,000 for youth league players, as well as basic needs such as private health insurance.  FFA, however, rejected the PFA’s claim for these entitlements in the W-League.

“This raises important questions of equity and fairness, and the game’s treatment of women footballers,” Schwab added.