Professionalism in women's football: Italy towards an epic reform
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
During the meeting of the Federal Council of FIGC (Italian Football Federation) on 25 June 2020, the proposal to "start a gradual project aimed at recognizing professionalism, starting from the 2022/2023 season" for women's football was unanimously approved.
This is undoubtedly extremely interesting news as it finally seems that the requests of the entire sector (women’s football) will be transformed into reality. It is aimed at recognizing professionalism as the achievement of a gender equality principle, with significant effects both on the legal qualification of the contracts between players and sports clubs and on the economic and social security guarantees related to it.
The issue, moreover, is not only Italian, since in various EU countries the position of female football (and more generally of female sport) highlights the persistence of discrimination and inequalities regarding not only the obvious economic imbalance (the salaries of the female players are, on average, less than half those of male peer-grades, without considering the so-called top players with stratospheric engagement contracts) and also the weaker position from the point of view of welfare and social security.
In Italy, furthermore, the issue appears even more controversial as it is part of the more general question of the relationship between professionals and amateurs, since the qualification of "professional" and the consequent possibility of entering into (typical) contracts foreseen by Law n.91/1981 is recognized only to athletes who belong to the "National Sports Federations recognized by CONI and who admit professionalism". There are currently only four federations (football, basketball, golf, cycling), thus creating a confusing area of "de facto" professional athletes who are not admitted to the stipulation of contracts pursuant to Law 91/1981.
Moreover, none of the four federations that recognize professionalism admits the female sector as professional, always and in any case considered as amateur: this is why the decision of the FIGC appears, despite being indeterminate, the first sign of a real revolution. A first sign that is still very partial, as we are talking about a federal proposal (therefore internal to the sports system) that would leave the state regulatory situation unchanged; and at the same time a first very vague sign, because the reference to "start a gradual project" (indicating the 2022/2023 season as the start date) can only be understood as a declaration of intent, since it does not contain any indication, not even very general, of terms and methods.
In consideration of recent international events (e.g. the participation in the 2019 World Cup) and growing media attention relating to the National Women's Championship, the path of reform and possible recognition of professionalism could only start in Italy from FIGC, which is the national federation with the most visibility and largest number of members. But FIGC is now called to the most important tasks: to translate the declaration of intent into federal law, and to lead the way of reform for a more general recognition of female professionalism that provides for equal access to professional employment contracts with a consequent decrease in wage inequalities, recognition of the protection of health and motherhood, recognition of social security protection, and application, also in the sports sector, of the principles of the EU norms against discrimination in the workplace. The recognition of professionalism as the realization of gender equality in the field of sports must take initiative from the sports system and then insert itself into the state system and determine those changes that were hoped for already in Law n.86/2019 (reform of the sports system) and that should be realized by next November 2020 (deadline for the implementation of the reform decree).
Reform of state legislation and reform of sports legislation will have to go hand in hand to achieve complete gender equality in sports and, for this to happen, recognition of female professionalism is the first indispensable step.
Professor of Sports Law at Mediterranea University of Reggio Calabria