Soccer-South Africa’s Women’s World Cup success highlights unequal pay issues

By Thando Hlophe

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s surprise success in reaching the knockouts at the Women’s World Cup has highlighted their inferior pay and resources when compared with the historically less successful men’s team.

South Africa’s women’s team, known as “Banyana Banyana”, reached the last 16 at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand earlier this month — the first time either the men’s or women’s team had achieved the feat.

The achievement, however, was partly overshadowed by a spat between the team and the South African Football Association (SAFA) in the leadup to the tournament over bonus payments.

The SAFA said last month that the dispute had been resolved after a charity stepped in with a donation, but the row focussed attention on discrepancies in the pay and bonuses of the men’s and women’s teams.

In a 2022 investigation into the bonus structure for Banyana Banyana, South Africa’s Commision for Gender Equity found that “players are not remunerated on the same scale (as) … their male counterparts”.

For instance, South Africa’s women’s players received only a 55,000 rand ($2,885) bonus for reaching the final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win.

Each player on the men’s team by contrast would have received a 250,000 rand bonus if they had qualified for the World Cup in Qatar in December — which they did not.

“We’re coming from very disadvantaged homes, we become breadwinners,” Portia Modise, former Banyana Banyana captain, told Reuters after playing a friendly in the township of Soweto. “Not getting paid (enough) makes life difficult.”

Differences in the pay for male and female soccer players is not unique to South Africa. FIFA announced in March that $152 million in prize money would be on offer for the Women’s World Cup, three times the amount offered at the previous tournament and 10 times the one before that.

That figure compared with $440 million for the men’s tournament in Qatar.

Linda Zwane, vice president of SAFA, told Reuters: “We appreciate everything that (the women’s team) went through, and we learned,” adding that he hoped this meant they could focus on the next tournament instead of “squabbling about issues of payment”.

($1 = 19.0627 rand)

(Reporting by Thando Hlophe; Writing by Tannur Anders; Editing Tim Cocks and Toby Davis)