Mexico’s Soccer League Colluded to Cap Women’s Salaries, Regulator Says

The sanctions come amid a global debate on the gender pay gap in sports that has been led most notably by players from the United States women’s national soccer team. 

Sep 24 2021, 5:49pm

Mexico’s antitrust commission fined the country’s top soccer clubs and its national federation almost $9 million this week for conspiring to keep the salaries of its female players artificially low.

The Federal Economic Competition Commission said Thursday that 17 soccer clubs, the league, the national federation, and eight executives had colluded to fix a salary ceiling for women players as well as hinder competition for male players, “which eliminated the competition between clubs to sign [the players] with better compensation and widened the salary gap between genders.”

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“The COFECE fine, at least in what concerns the female league, is about a behavior that everyone knew and was aware of in the sport: players, coaches, managers, media,” Ana Paola López, a player for the Pachuca Club, said on Twitter. “Every time you wanted to negotiate a contract, it came up.”

In the men’s league, the fine was imposed on the clubs for what the commission called a “gentleman’s agreement” in the men’s league that limited players’ ability to move among teams and negotiate higher salaries. 

The Mexican Football Federation said that it had eliminated the pay ceiling for women in 2019 and the “gentleman’s agreement” in 2018, but that it would not contest the fine.

Sports analysts applauded the decision. “The issue of what the women are paid is shameful,” said ESPN commentator David Faitelson. “Not even $150 dollars a month.

“You can’t manage the women players—almost with an approach of slavery—and pay them what they are being paid,” he said in a television commentary. “What crooks they are!” 

The sanctions come amid a global debate on the gender pay gap in sports that has been led most notably by players from the United States women’s national soccer team. 

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In Mexico, a select few female players with the richest clubs earn as much as $3,000 a month, but most earn just a couple hundred dollars per month—barely enough to cover the cost of transport and training—as top male players earn millions of dollars a year

That, however, represents a slight improvement since the female league played its inaugural season in 2017. At a sports summit last year, the president of the Mexican Soccer Federation, Yon de Luisa, argued that the low salaries don’t have to do with gender, but rather disparities in revenue. 

“If by order of the [Federation] it is decided that the girls are going to earn a certain amount that clubs cannot support, [the clubs] would have to disappear. We must be careful,” said de Luisa.

But this year, with the COFECE decision imminent, he was more upbeat. “With more sponsors and more television coverage, obviously the clubs and the national team will have more money to invest and that will be reflected in the conditions for everyone,” de Luisa said in an interview last month. 

Despite recent gains, the female league, which was created to help improve the talent pool for the Mexican women’s national team, still has a long way to go in order to catch up to the men in terms of revenue. In a recent interview, the director of the female league, Mariana Gutiérrez, said she hoped for it to become self-sustainable by 2027.

In that sense, the situation of the women in Mexico is different from that of the players for the U.S. women’s national team, which generates as much or more revenue than its male counterpart

The practices discovered by COFECE stifled the kind of competition between clubs for players that would lead to higher salaries, said Brenda Hernández, the commission’s president. The pay ceilings meant that wherever a player looked, she would find the same conditions.

“These pay ceilings applied only to the women,” Hernandez said, in an interview with a local radio station. “The effect was to widen the pay gap between men and women players.”

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