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German football wants to forge its own road forward

Alima Hotakie
August 1, 2022

Many women's football teams have taken on the fight for equal pay, but Germany's stars want to take a different approach. Their focus is on equal conditions and avoiding the pitfalls of the men's game.

Laura Freigang celebrates after scoring in World Cup qualifer against Israel
Laura Freigang is wary of emulating the men's football modelImage: Marvin Ibo Güngör/GES/picture alliance

At the start of Euro 2022 German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took to Twitter to call for equal pay for Germany's women's and men's teams. 

"It's 2022. Women and men should get equal pay. This also applies to sport, especially for national teams," the chancellor wrote. 

During the halftime break at Sunday's final, the chancellor told ARD public television that he and German FA (DFB) Director Oliver Bierhoff were scheduled to meet to discuss the matter in the near future.  

Going their own way

However, while members of the German national team are very vocal when it comes to championing gender equality, but they want to forge their own way forward instead of simply following the men's model.

While equal pay is often the automatic battle cry, Germany's stars are more focused on demanding an equal playing field. They're also wary of simply replicating what they see in men's football, where €100,000-per-week wages ($104,500) are becoming common place.

"When you talk about equal pay then it always sounds like you're saying that the women should earn exactly as much as the men. I ask myself; is that even what we want?" Germany striker Laura Freigang told DW.

"I don't even know if I want the women's game to develop exactly in that direction, to reach the same dimensions as the men's game."

By no means will it deter their fight for equality, but they recognize issues in the modern landscape of men's football and aren't afraid to confront perceived flaws.

"The sums in men's football are quite crazy," said Germany midfielder Tabea Wassmuth. "Perhaps we could find a middle ground."

Freigang feels women's football can provide an alternative route to the money-driven men's game.

"It's capitalism, that's the way it is. The world functions a bit like that." Freigang said. "The question is; can you somehow bring in structures that can contain it?”

They have welcomed changes like the recent increase in prize money at Euro 2022, but they're focused on achieving some sort of middle ground.

'Equal Play' vs. ‘Equal Pay'

There have been important changes recently. Spain, England, Norway and the United States are among other countries that have reached equal pay agreements between their men's and women's teams.

But Germany have decided to focus on conditions rather than on pay packets, and the gap between the women and men is closing.

They stay at hotels of the same standard as the men, and they have their own personal staff that accompanies them to games and tournaments, including physiotherapists, medical staff and their own personal chef.

"A lot has happened over the past few years. We are well looked after. No one can complain and demand more," Germany midfielder Lena Lattwein told DW.

Tabea Wassmuth and Lena Lattwein
Tabea Wassmuth (left) and Lena Lattwein (right) want an equal playing fieldImage: Michael Memmler/Eibner/picture alliance

The German women also share a base camp with the men's national team in the small German town of Herzogenaurach, where they've been preparing for Euro 2022.

For Freigang, Germany's focus is to provide a more professional environment for the future generations.

"If I demand equal pay then it would, above all, affect me. Those of us who have already reached the top, we would benefit because we would get more," Freigang said.

"But it's not primarily about that. We want to professionalize the sport so that it's possible for all players to start on the same level and have the same opportunities."

But for all the big strides at a national level, a core problem remains: the discrepancies in the domestic game.

Equality starts at home

Unlike in the men's top flight, there are many players in the women's Bundesliga that can't live off their football earnings alone.

"There are huge discrepancies in the Bundesliga. Some have to work on the side or they won't be able to pay for their livelihoods,” said Wassmuth, who plays at Wolfsburg.

There are also massive differences in facilities and services provided at different clubs, such as training grounds and change rooms. Many clubs don't even have fulltime employees or physiotherapists.  

"It's these small things that need changing in order to improve the equal opportunities," Wassmuth added.

While Bayern and Wolfsburg are the exceptions, clubs like Frankfurt and Hoffenheim are slowly raising their standards. But the gap between the rest is massive.

"I can only speak about Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg, I was looked after really well,"  Lattwein said. "But I have heard of cases where players work for eight hours a day and then go to training. These are the things we want to change."

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done to reach parity among the Bundesliga clubs. But a complete professionalization of the entire league would give many female players the opportunity to only focus on football.  

"The girls at all the clubs should be on the same level when it comes to equal playing conditions. That is more important to me than closing the gap with the men," Lattwein said. "I believe that is possible."

Tabea Wassmuth on the ball
Tabea Wassmuth would like to see more marketing for women's footballImage: Bahho Kara/Eibner-Pressefoto/picture alliance

Closing the coverage gap

The Germany internationals are also keen to see their game grab a bigger slice of media and promotional coverage.

The Champions League this past season showed that the public interest is there, with the tournament attracting record audiences. When Barcelona Femeni hosted Wolfsburg at the Camp Nou for the first leg of their semifinal, they broke their own attendance record for a women's football match. Almost 92,000 fans witnessed the 5-1 rout.

"I understand that the men generate more money, but they could try to make the women more visible." Wassmuth says. "We have to work on the kickoff times. To show the games at times that are simply more attractive."

Promoting the game more effectively is key, such as highlighting top games and rivalries to the public in order to generate interest. Kickoff times of 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. on a weekday aren't doing the game's growth any favors.

For the German national team, confronting these discrepancies is critical in the fight to push the game to the next level. This is why equal pay isn't at the very top of their list when it comes to battling for parity.

Edited by Janek Speight and Chuck Penfold.

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