Women referees strike in Spain: Equal pay for equal work

It was supposed to be a day of celebration: After years of discussions and debates, the highest Spanish women’s league was to start as a professional league for the first time. With women who earn their living by playing football and can therefore train more often and better – in short: thanks to adjusted pay, they can perform better and make the league more attractive. But the adjustment only applies to women players. Other women were not taken into account and went on strike on what was not a historic day: the referees.

Spain has a number of recognised and excellent female referees, some of whom are also active in international men’s football. Most recently, assistant referee Guadalupe Porras Ayuso was on the sidelines for the high-scoring Champions League clash between Liverpool FC and SSC Napoli.

Before the match day, there were negotiations between the Primera División de la Liga de Fútbol Femenino (LPFF) and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). It was about adjusting the wages of female referees to those of their male colleagues, but the LPFF did not see fit to change anything. So what almost had to happen happened: the women referees consulted and then decided unanimously: they would go on strike. They will not referee the matches on the first day of the LPFF. That was last Thursday, 8 September 2022.

Wages are often not even enough to cover travel costs

300 euros is what the referee gets so far, both assistants 168 euros each and the fourth official 84 euros. For the whole day. This is much less than their male colleagues receive and rarely covers travel expenses. To put it bluntly: the female referees receive wages, but usually pay on top. For every match. And on top of that, they have a main job that they cannot do full time in order to manage training and travel.

Yet the clubs pay 3,300 euros per match day for the referees – so where do the remaining 2,580 euros go?! The RFEF now wants the clubs to pay the same amount as in professional men’s football, i.e. 21,000 euros.

“We will not negotiate with those who threaten us”.

Last Monday, the women referees held a press conference in which Marta Huerta de Aza, among others, addressed the public. Huerta de Aza has been a referee since 2005, a Fifa referee since 2016 and is also active in professional men’s football. She is a teacher in her main profession and a mother since February 2021.

She said it was “shameful” and “ridiculous” that they had to go on strike. “We are demanding rights that everyone should have,” she thinks, meaning: Equal pay for equal work. “We have a professional league and yet we are the only ones who are not considered professional.”
The league threatens the women referees with legal and disciplinary action, but they are not deterred: “We will not negotiate with those who threaten us.”

Support from referees and players

The referees of Spain’s two top men’s football leagues, LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank, have shown solidarity with their female colleagues and recently issued a statement saying, “The time our colleagues spend developing their performances, both in training and preparation and when travelling and performing, makes it impossible to reconcile their refereeing with the practice of other professions and therefore requires a high level of commitment.” She ends with an appeal towards the Spanish Women’s League: “All levels of football must come together to ensure that our women’s football improves and receives the worldwide recognition our team deserves.”

The players, who were waiting on the pitch for the match officials last Saturday as per the regular 30 minutes, also showed their support for the referees as well as the Spanish Sports Council CSD. They deserve thanks, which Marta Huerta de Aza also named at the press conference: “I would like to thank the Spanish Federation, our colleagues, players and teams for their support. We have received countless messages of solidarity. We know that they [the players] fought and they are with us now.” And, “We are looking forward to going out [on the pitch] and refereeing.”

Let’s hope the LPFF also realises their mistake soon and does justice.

N.B. – This article first appeared on WebDE in German as a FRÜF column on 14 September 2022. Shortly after, the demands were met and the new league could start with matchday 2.