How are Legal Policies Shaping the Landscape of Women's Football?

Analysing the present and future of women football - Author: Emely Saenz

Credit: FIFA (


In recent years, women's football has experienced an extraordinary rise in global popularity and development, marking a significant change in the sports industry. Women's football has now emerged as a powerful force, captivating audiences with the skill, passion, and competitive spirit that the different teams demonstrate.This remarkable growth is evident not only in the increasing number of players and teams but also in the substantial rise in viewership, sponsorship, and media coverage. The drastic shift this sport has had in recent years is challenging stereotypes and inspiring a new generation of athletes; from domestic leagues to record-breaking World Cup tournaments, the story of women's football is being transformed. This article will examine the elements that contributed to the sport as we know it, pointing out the legal aspects of the process and highlighting the ever-present challenges it faces.

Legal Framework

After the unprecedented success of the 2015 edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup, the interest in the sport grew exponentially. This prompted organizations worldwide to design legal frameworks and strategies with the purpose of supporting the rise of the sport as well as promoting gender equality. These legal measures have been instrumental in creating a more inclusive environment for women's football, ensuring that they have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the sport. FIFA has implemented various statutes and regulations aimed at promoting women's football. Their efforts include mandating that its member associations develop and invest in women's football programs. The organization's Women'sFootball Strategy, launched in 2018, outlines goals for increasing participation, improving competitions, enhancing the commercial value of the women's game, and advocating for equality and inclusion. Being the most important entity in associated football, FIFA's initiatives encourage confederations and member associations, clubs and players, the media, fans and other stakeholders to confront and overcome the challenges that the sport encounters.

Many countries have introduced gender equality regulations that support women's participation in sports. These provisions often dictate equal access to funding, facilities, and opportunities for male and female athletes. For example, the European Union's commitment to gender equality is reflected in various resolutions and policies that promote women's sports. In the past years the European Parliament has underscored the importance of an integrated approach to gender equality in sports by promoting strategies[1] and action plans[2] to help foster a positive social environment. Likewise, national laws in countries like the United States, Spain, and Slovenia have also been instrumental in ensuring that women's football receives adequate support and resources.

Gender pay gap

Nevertheless, women's football is still at a formative stage. In spite of its significant growth, itis far from achieving the statistics that men's football generate. The rapidly increased interest in the sport is hindered by the disparity in men's and women's salaries. In fact, an investigation led by The Telegraph in 2022 found that salaries in the Women's Super League range from as little as £20,000 (approx. €23,488)per annum to as much as £250,000 (approx. €293,598), plus bonuses, across the12 top clubs[3].In contrast, the median men's salaries in the Premier League stood at around €3.1m(approx. £2.6m) in the top 20 clubs[4]. Similarly, England's male national team received on average 16,906% more a year than the female squad in2022[5], despite the latter taking home the UEFA Women's EURO trophy. To say there is a big difference would be an understatement.

Moreover, the imbalance in men's and women's salaries often results in the lack of commitment from women to the sport, due to the fact that they sometimes cannot rely solely on their salary and need to look for another source of income. This became more evident when the South American Women'sFootball Study 2023, presented by FIFPRO South America, showed that only 24% of the players surveyed dedicate themselves exclusively to full-time football, while the remaining 76% are employed or study elsewhere. In terms of remuneration, 49% receive a salary equal to or less than the legal minimum wage and 27% receive no remuneration for playing football. These examples illustrate that even though the gender pay gap has been narrowing, it still very much exists.

Inefficient legal protection

While various legal aspects have aided the growth of women's football, there are also legal barriers that hinder its development. These barriers can manifest in several ways, including lack of legal protections and insufficient enforcement of existing regulations. Most recently, the football landscape had to reevaluate the efficiency of the Minimum Labor Conditions for Players set in the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players [RSTP], which in 2021 introduced changes regarding the need to better protect female player's working conditions. This happened primarily because in 2023, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir won a case against her former club Lyon where the club was held accountable by the FIFA DisputeResolution Chamber for not paying her full salary from March 2021 until her maternity leave officially started in September that year. This case exemplifies show even though there are existing regulations that guarantee the rights of female football players, not all of FIFA's member associations have been as committed to upholding them as one might expect[6]. Having said that, in May2024, the FIFA Council approved new changes to the RSTP that extend the rights and protections recognized, further adapting the regulations to the needs of female players and coaches. "In order for the game to further flourish, it's absolutely key that we have a holistic approach towards player well-being, including the legal aspects"[7]. Thereby, FIFA must enforce these standards, strictly, consistently and uniformly across all member associations in order to properly protect women's rights in football.

Lack of investment

Another element that affects women's football worldwide is the lack of investment in the sport, resulting in inadequate infrastructure, mismanagement of grassroots football and poor media representation. Many women's football teams, especially at the grassroots and semi-professional levels, do not have access to good-quality training facilities. This issue often results in women training on poorer quality pitches, gyms and recovery facilities, which can increase the risk of injuries and set back their skill development. Grassroots are critical for the nurturing of future talent and without access to proper facilities, young female players may be discouraged from pursuing the sport seriously, resulting in a smaller talent pool for higher levels of competition.

Even at such levels of competition we encounter the same problem. The FIFPRO Qualifying ConditionsReport for the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand stated that many players had to endure poor pitches and did not receive proper medical checks. This report mentioned that 31% of the players surveyed said training pitches were not of an elite standard, while 32% believed match day pitches and stadiums were not good enough. A total of 66% said recovery facilities were not elite standard or provided at all, while 70% were unhappy with gym facilities. This data also highlights the competitive disadvantage that some teams may encounter,since it is evident that teams with better facilities tend to perform better. In response to this, FIFA tasked itself the objective of boosting the already rapid development and popularity of women's football across the world starting by providing first-class conditions for participating players, coaches and match officials at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup[8]. Still, there is much work to be done.


The momentum is undeniable, and the progress made thus far is a testament to the resilience and determination of those involved in the game. Many factors have contributed tothe growth of this sport throughout the years, which is why it's important to keep encouraging them and providing the adequate support for the sport to continue its development. Even though the challenges facing women's football are significant, they are not insurmountable. Continued efforts to address financial disparities, improve media coverage, enhance infrastructure, and enforce legal regulations are essential for the sport's growth and success.

Sponsorship and commercial partnerships are another critical factor that should be considered when discussing the expansion of women's football. Major brands are finally recognizing the value and potential of aligning with the sport, leading to lucrative deals that were once reserved exclusively for men's football. Companies like Nike,Adidas, and Visa have launched significant campaigns centered around women's football, contributing to its growing financial viability and appeal. Incidentally, according to the 27th edition of the Deloitte Football Money League, football will be the most valuable women's sport, with revenue of over €500m expected to be generated worldwide in 2024.

It is evident that important steps have been taken in the right direction, and by addressing the existing challenges and reinforcing the legal and infrastructural support that the sport needs, we can ensure that the growth witnessed today translates into a lasting and meaningful impact.

Date of Publication: 13 June 2024


[1] European Parliament resolution of 21 January 2021 on the EUStrategy for Gender Equality (2019/2169(INI)).

[2] European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth,Sport and Culture, Towards more gender equality in sport -Recommendations and action plan from the High Level Group on Gender Equality insport (2022), Publications Office of the European Union, 2022,


[4] Off The Pitch Player Salary Data 2022.

[5] "Moving the goalposts: Analyzing the differences between men &women's football". V. Collins.

[6] FIFA's Maternity Benefits for Female Players Enforced by FootballTribunal (Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir v Lyon). D. Winnie, M. Agrawal, S. Cottrell.

[7] FIFA Chief Legal & Compliance Officer Emilio García Silvero atFIFA Council.

[8] FIFA'S Strategic Objectives for the Global Game: 2023-2027.

The World of Sports: Our Playing Field

The Legal Impact of Hosting the UEFA European Championship

A Focus on EURO 2024 - Author: Yordin Kessels

read more

SPORTIA LAW is present in the academic, teaching and sports world through the direction and participation in leading academic programs worldwide.

read more

We come into play

read more