The biggest soccer news of the day in Italy is that the budget committee of the Senato della Repubblica has passed a new amendment to the law that governs professional sports in the nation which will allow for full professionalism in the women’s game for the first time, removing the salary cap and allowing the teams in Serie A to pay their players actual wages. The Senate has allocated €11 million over the next 3 years to allow the semiprofessional clubs to make the transition.
Calcio Femminile Serie A, to give it its full name, has been forced to treat its players as semiprofessionals for its entire existence, forbidding teams to pay salaries; the only “wage” that a woman in Serie A receives is a per diem of €60 (and that for just 5 days a week) and a match bonus of €77.47. That’s obviously miles short of a living wage, which means that most women players in Serie A rely on part-time jobs or family and friends to make ends meet.
While the push for full professionalization—and its attendant perks of a paycheck and health insurance (pretty important for an athlete)—has been building since at least 2015, most teams in Serie A resisted the change on the grounds that paying salaries would bankrupt them. This wasn’t a baseless fear, either, as Atalanta Mozzanica was forced to shut up shop due to a cash shortfall just this summer.
While Fiorentina deserves praise for founding its women’s team—the first in Italy attached to a men’s club—the annual operating budget of €800,000 isn’t even a drop in the bucket of the Viola’s finances; for comparison’s sake, that’s roughly two-thirds of what Cyril Théréau brings home every year. Even if the brass wanted to pay the players more, the rules prevented them from doing so.
With other clubs like Juventus, AS Roma, AC Milan, and Inter Milan following in the Viola footsteps, though, there’s suddenly no shortage of teams that are capable of actually paying their female players. Although the disparity in salaries between men and women will remain one of exponential proportions, at least the women will be able make something resembling a living.
“We are very happy!” said Katia Serra, former Serie A striker and spokesperson for the Associazione Italiana Calciatori (the Italian Players’ Association), told L Football. “I want to thank Senator [Tomasso] Nannicini [who sponsored the bill], the government, and all the parliamentarians who have worked for this momentous occasion. Now the alibi that professionalism is too expensive no longer works. The €11 million allocated are a sufficient fund for the necessary economic coverage. This is only a first step, fundamental to building professionalism together with the FIGC and all the federations interested in finally giving equal treatment to women athletes.”
Italy has fallen miles behind England, France, and Germany in funding women’s football, and it shows: Fiorentina are one of the three strongest clubs in the nation and were absolutely destroyed by Arsenal in the Champions League. The ability to pay wages will allow Italian clubs to attract better talent and let domestic players focus on their football instead of worrying about how to handle the bills, which should in turn lead to a more competitive league, a higher standard of play, and improved performance in continental competitions, both club and international.
The new law doesn’t come into effect until January of 2020, so the Viola brain trust has to figure out very quickly how to set up a pay structure. The biggest changes, though, will probably occur in the summer, when the club can start signing players to fully professional, guaranteed contracts. Rocco Commisso has already shown that he’s serious about the women’s side, putting in appearances at matches and training sessions, and it’s easy to believe that he’ll invest as heavily as possible.
For women’s soccer on the peninsula, throughout Europe, and all over the world, this is a solid beginning. It’s not the end, though. It’s not even the middle. We’re still not sure what this will look like in practice; there could well be a salary cap put in place to allow those clubs that aren’t attached to another organization to remain at least somewhat competitive. The truth is that we just don’t know how it’s going to look because nobody’s ever seen a league in Italy go from semipro to pro. All we can say is that it’s a huge win for the players, the fans, and the sport, and that should be enough.