Chelsea’s Melanie Leupolz says equal pay ‘not appropriate’ for women’s game

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Melanie Leupolz of Chelsea looks on during the UEFA Women's Champions League Final match between Chelsea FC and Barcelona at Gamla Ullevi on May 16, 2021 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by David Lidstrom/Getty Images)

Melanie Leupolz has given her thoughts on the vast debate surrounding equal pay in men’s and women’s football. The German international has said it is “not appropriate” for the women’s game at the moment.

In an interview with Goal, the 27-year-old said: “I don’t think equal pay is appropriate because you have to see what money men bring in and what women bring in.

“What justification do I have to earn millions when on the weekends I play in front of 3,000 people?

“Clubs are making losses for women’s teams. You have to invest now so that women’s football can support itself in a few years and brings in profits.”

The women’s sports economics in Europe are diametrically opposite to that of the USA’s, where the fight for equal pay has been ongoing for years now.

Most of the big European leagues aren’t professionalised and therefore not regulated. Most teams’ players — aside from ‘big’ clubs — fail to meet their financial needs and as a result, they are pushed away from the sport.

A US-based movement known under the hashtag #NoMoreSideHustles is working to fight for sustainable careers for athletes who join the NWSL.

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Leupolz’s proposition for stronger foundations

“I would rather wish that we train on good training grounds, play in nice stadiums and that the general conditions are the same [as the men],” Leupolz admitted.

It’s no secret that women’s football has faced fierce challenges. We have watched women play on poor pitch surfaces and also in small stadiums that can be unfriendly to match-goers.

It is also proved that when the games are hosted in men’s first team stadiums — like in Atletico Madrid’s and Barcelona’s case — attendance numbers are enlarged.

As the Chelsea midfielder relayed, such improvements in the teams’ infrastructures demand lower financial aid from the clubs. What Leupolz stressed in her interview was that “it’s not actually about how much the players earn, but about the conditions surrounding women’s football.”

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Playing with the boys assisted her game

Leupolz revealed she, like many other female footballers, played on a boys’ team until her teenage years.

“I switched to a girls’ team at TSV Tettnang because the regional FA no longer gave me special permission,” she added.

The fact that she had to compete against the ‘much faster’ boys at a young age, pushed her to develop her game and enhance her technique.

But what made the coexistence with the male players so beneficially vital for Leupolz, was the physicality and the endurance level she faced.

“The physicality and the fact that you have to make a decision quickly because they [the boys] are much faster definitely shapes you.”

Leupolz, who is now regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world, believes this was one of the key reasons why she made it big in the Bundesliga.

Challenges faced by the women’s game

Anyone who has followed women’s football in recent years has at least noticed a few of the issues the sport is dealing with regularly. Even in the biggest championships, players are facing significant challenges that men seldom do.

Some days ago, Rayo Vallecano’s Camila Saez suffered a head injury during a match. Since the Madrid club lacked a medical team, she had to be treated by Athletic Bilbao’s medics.

Even the 2018 French Cup final, a game between European royalty Lyon and rivals PSG, was played on a subpar waterlogged field.

Last month, Amel Majri’s magical start of the season was cut short due to an ACL and meniscus injury she suffered most likely because of the dangerous Soyaux pitch.

Last season, the Women’s Super League was hit with a barrage of ACL injuries with a fair number of top players facing the sidelines.

Furthermore, the amount of postponed games because of waterlogged or even iced pitches — especially during winter months — is excessive.

Setting the correct priorities

For the game to grow and flourish, strong foundations need to be set. What prevents the advancement of women’s football is not the player’s salary, but the too common sub-par working conditions.

Leupolz stands in favour of the “well-paid” women’s game which will only come through the restoration of proper work guarantees.

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No time for sentimentalisms

Equal pay is often regarded as a sentimental topic. The USWNT, the most decorated national team, have fought against all odds to preserve the game’s rights.

But to give an example of the disparity in revenue between women’s and men’s games, we need to look at the annual report of the German FA.

The men’s team generated €84 million in 2018 and €69.5 million in 2019. Meanwhile, the women’s ‘Nationalelf’ generated €900,000 in 2019 and €2.3 million in 2019 (WWC year).

Even the USA’s 2019 World Cup glory prize money was just 10% (€3.1 million) of what the France men’s team earned in Russia’s World Cup in 2018 (€312 million).

“[Fewer financial obligations] makes it possible for women’s football to be self-supporting,” Leupolz said.

There is no way to tell if or when equal pay will become a more common thing within the women’s game, but healthy conversations must continue in order to keep the ball rolling.

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