Sydney FC Captain's Catch-22 and how it highlights a big issue in the W-League

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When Teresa Polias pulled out of Sydney FC's midweek game against Perth Glory last month, it highlighted a big problem facing many W-League players in Australia.

A qualified teacher,  the team's captain had a choice to make. Play for the team she leads or put her students first. 

She chose the latter and no-one blamed her. 

The fact she had to make a choice in the first place is the real problem. 

SBS News spoke with the Australian Premier League's (APL) Managing Director Danny Townsend and he says it's a good example of why the women's game in Australia needs to become fully professional. 

"At the end of the day when you lose your captain because she's got a work commitment means getting the girls to the same level of professionalism as the men is even more important" 

Polias' teammate Nat Tobin did play in the 6-2 win in Perth but that's only because her employer is able to be more flexible with her hours.

Tobin is a qualified occupational therapist but the grind of working fulltime and playing W-League has seen her reduce her workdays from 5 to 4. 

The 24-year-old has played with Sydney FC since she was 16. While studying to become an occupational therapist at University she decided something had to give:

"I found it good to have a year off when I was about 21, it really was nice just to go out at the weekend go away with my family when I wanted to, see my boyfriend more often that was really nice to live a normal life," Tobin said.

Natalie Tobin in the gym for Sydney FC
Natalie Tobin in the Sydney FC gym training
John Baldock - SBS

 

The players union, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) is hoping next year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will place more focus on the women's game and the fact most players are training like professionals, but only earning semi-professional wages.  

 

Co-Chief Executive of the PFA is Kate Gill. And as a former Matilda, she's well aware the tournament can positively impact the domestic league. 

"It will be phenomenal and I think it's all the lead-up work for the nation to see and the international audience to see how we treat our athletes here and particularly our female footballers," Gill said.

 

The PFA surveyed its members last year and found that almost half of the W-League players were working a minimum of 21 hours a week outside football. 

Almost three-quarters of those say that's to make ends meet during the four-month W-League season and to keep the money coming in during the off-season. 

 

On average a W-League player earns $16,000 dollars a season. That compares poorly with the female Big Bash Cricketers who earn upwards of $36,000 dollars and their American colleagues who take home over $30,000 dollars. 

Average salary comparison
How different women's sports compare
SBS Graphics

 

Sydney FC coach Ante Juric sympathises with his players and says their commitment to playing whilst not earning much more than subsistence wages can't be faulted. 

"They're definitely committed unfortunately they can't do it full time at the moment. Maybe one day it will be similar to the A-League where they can play full time and not worry about work," Juric said.

 

The sight of top stars such as Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord earning big-money contracts in Europe doesn't seem to fill the current crop of players here with envy. The opposite in fact.

Tobin is happy that women footballers are able to play full time somewhere in the world, even if it's not the W-League. 

"They are full-time athletes, which is just incredible. You couldn't have imagined that in 2012 when I first started playing so that's so encouraging for the young girls coming up."

 

With both the PFA and the APL looking to push the women's game in Australia towards being fully professional,  some of the young players watching Sam Kerr and co. trying to win the World Cup next year may not have to move to Europe to make a living from the game. 

Source SBS The World Game