Lost in the midst of the endless coverage surrounding the outbreak of the coronavirus and how it has affected the Italian landscape, was the fact that a diamond was dropped into a sea of pearls. According to Calcio e Finanza, the FIGC has reportedly declared that it will let the women of Serie A Femminile become professionals.
The decree was made on Monday, February 24th, during the FIGC’s Consiglio Federale (Federal Council conference). During the conference, FIGC president, Gabriele Gravina, revealed that he is in favor of allowing the women to become professionals.
He also went on to state that the federation wants to make them professionals by the 2021/2022 season. The decision came three months after the approval of an amendment to the Budget Law of 2020, which opened up the path of professionalism to the amateur athletes of Italy. The amendment was originally proposed by Senators Tommaso Nannicini and Susy Matrisciano. It passed into law by the Italian Senate on December 11th, 2019.
The amendment then came into effect on January 1st, 2020. However, the law didn’t immediately make the amateur athletes professionals. Instead, it gave leeway to the individual federations to decide whether to grant their athletes this status.
A Little Help From Above
Allowing your athletes to become professionals is, no doubt, quite a daunting task.
The Italian government has, fortunately, realized this, and they have also promised to aid the federations that will choose to take this step forward.
In particular, the government has promised to provide them assistance by granting them tax cuts. The tax cuts are specifically for the teams that choose to pay benefits for their players. What it means is that, if a team chooses to pay benefits for their players, then they won’t have to pay it back to the government. An example: if a team pays €8,000 in benefits, then they will get an €8,000 tax exemption in return. (€8,000 also happens to be the maximum amount each team can provide for an individual player.)
The government also plans to take additional steps to ease the burden of this process. The Italian government will provide a total of €20 million in subsidies that will be distributed over a period of three years, to the teams that have professionalized. The intent of the three-year limit is to get the federations to the point where they can sustain themselves.
This is all in accordance with Law 91/81, which is the law that determines which athletes are classified as professionals within the country.
It also falls in line with the previously mentioned 2019 amendment, which states that the teams that pay benefits for their players can request ‘full exemption’ in the form of tax cuts. More importantly, it also states that in order for there to be equality among the athletes, then the women must be allowed to become professionals.
The FIGC’s decision came after carrying out an in-depth study that was done in collaboration with various women’s clubs and federations across Europe. The study was then presented at the conference. Among the many findings included in the report were the methods that other federations adopted when they allowed their leagues to professionalize.
The study also found that out of a total of 1,270,000 women’s football players in Europe, only 1,457 of them are semi-professionals, while only 1,396 are actual professionals.
As a result of this, the FIGC came up with three separate ‘hypotheses’ that will allow the women to become professionals. The three hypotheses are: granting a professional contract for all the athletes; granting professional status to the players who have turned 19, or for those who have just turned 21.
The governing body will evaluate each of the proposals within the upcoming days and then implement the most plausible one. This will be implemented with the intent of making the women professionals by the end of 2021.
The Maternity Fund
The FIGC’s declaration comes one month after Sara Gama revealed that the Italian government has a ‘maternity fund’ for the athletes of the country. She also stated that the fund has been in existence for two years.
It is not known whether the money from the said fund has been spent, or how it will be spent. Should Serie A professionalize, then this will be one of the things that will help them along the way.
Gama, the captain of both Juventus and the national team, has been at the forefront of the fight for professionalism. She is also a member of the Federal Council of the FIGC, which gives her a position of influence that allows her to be a spokesperson for this movement. She has had many brilliant moments in her storied career, but none were more brilliant than the impassioned speech she gave at the Quirinale.
There, in front of the President of the Republic, she highlighted the inequality that flies in the face of the words enshrined in the constitution.
“All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions. It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country.“
(It is worth mentioning that the president, Sergio Mattarella, actually came out in support of the women, as he called the disparity between the men and women ‘irrational’.)
Gama has also said that denying the women the chance to become professionals is a form of ‘gender discrimination’. She also said the fight for professionalism would be a long one, as equality is never a process that happens overnight.
Similarly, Beatrice Merlo, the Inter Milan defender, recently echoed those sentiments. In an interview with L Football Magazine, she too said that the path to professionalism would be a ‘long one’. She also stated that the benefits of the process would be fully realized for the ‘next generation’, and not the current crop of Serie A players.
While Merlo might be secretive about her love of the Rossoneri, she is quite open and honest about this very issue.
And she should be. While the FIGC’s decision was a good first step, it does not mean the path that they will take will be free of any potential hurdles. Nor does it mean that the players will be able to immediately reap the benefits of becoming professionals as well.
The Potential Stumbling Blocks
The implementation of professionalism for Serie A won’t be easy.
For starters, there are many questions pertaining to how the process will address the current issues within the league.
The first of those questions is the fact that there is no minimum salary agreement in place for the players. Unlike the NWSL, which has a minimum of $20,000, or La Liga Iberdrola, where the minimum is €16,000, there is no such requirement for Serie A.
In contrast to this, there is, in fact, a salary cap in place. The cap is currently €30,000, but the players can earn more if they sign multi-year deals with clubs. Currently, the longest contracts last only three years. Milan’s very own Valentina Giacinti is one player who is currently under such a contract. Most contracts, however, last only one year.
It was something that coach Maurizio Ganz recently lamented about, as he complained about how teams from other leagues can take players away from Serie A rather easily. This is due to the lack of professional contracts that would tie the players down. For this very reason, Ganz is also in favor of making the women professionals.
However, despite the short contracts and the presence of a salary cap, other things for the league are not regulated. Chief among them being the bonuses doled out to the players. What does this mean? It means the teams can give the players however many bonuses they want and can pay whatever amount they want as well.
Currently, the league’s big teams are confirmed to spend an average of €800,000 per year on their women’s teams. At the moment, it would seem like there is economic parity between the teams, but the ability to award bountiful bonuses would challenge that notion.
Moving In Silence
Furthermore, the FIGC has also, apparently, quietly made two moves that could hamper the growth of women’s football in the country. As per La Gazzetta dello Sport, the requirement that teams must have a balanced budget has been removed from the list of requirements for Serie A. This could become a potential problem, given that sustainability is one of the pillars that the platform of professionalism is built upon.
The second motion, however, might be more resounding. The federation has, apparently, ‘diluted’ some of the requirements for having a women’s team. Prior to this, the FIGC had previously required the men’s teams to have a women’s team and to have the women’s team grow ‘organically’ beside the men. The growth would have occurred through the establishment of academies that would allow the girls to be trained at a young age, just like the boys are. Eventually, the primavera sectors would grow into fully established women’s teams.
That requirement, however, has now been changed. Now, in order to fulfill your obligation, all you have to do is make a deal with a woman’s team in your region. As a result of this, the teams will be less inclined to build a women’s team from the ground-up.
This could hurt the growth of women’s football in Italy, as training players at a young age is crucial for the success of any country. If that requirement is removed, then it could deny future generations of girls the vital training they’ll need to be successful. This could also lead to dwindling registration numbers among the girls of the country, as there will be fewer academies to train in.
Currently, Italy only has 24,000 registered players for both the girls and the women. This is far less than the number of players in other European countries. Germany and The Netherlands for example, have 203,756 and 155,035 registered players, respectively.
The removal of these regulations means that Milena Bertolini’s hopes of eventually seeing 100,000 players in the country have now faced a big setback.
The two motions also came in the wake of the country’s successful campaign at the Women’s World Cup, and all of the good momentum that came from it. The thinking was that Italy performed quite well during that tournament and that they would only get better over time. The FIGC, however, has now cast a few shadows over that bright future.
Who Gets To Be A Professional?
There’s also the question of who will get to become a professional under these new regulations. As was previously noted, one of the three hypotheses proposed by the FIGC, is whether to grant all the players this status.
Would it just apply to some or all of the players? Will it be applied to those who have turned 19, or will they have to wait until they’re 21? And will it apply to the established players in the league, or will it just be for the newcomers?
The trick is to see how the federation addresses all of these questions as they try to work everything out.
With this in mind, all of these factors combined could lead to a few problems down the line. The athletes of the previously mentioned La Liga recently went on strike to protest these very issues.
If Serie A isn’t diligent in addressing the needs of their players, then we might see the same thing here.
However, it’s hard to predict the future, and we won’t know what’s going to happen until it actually happens.
‘A Change Is Gonna Come’
Despite these pressing questions, the fact that the FIGC will let the women become professionals is something that is worth celebrating.
Currently, AC Milan is the only team in the league that is confirmed to pay pensions for their women’s team. It will be nice to see the rest of the teams follow suit.
Italy is several years behind other nations in terms of developing women’s football. However, the country will be able to catch up rather quickly by applying all of the knowledge and know-how they’ve amassed over the years to the women’s game. The same country that has won four World Cups can easily transfer their tactical nous and relentless desire to win from one gender to another.
The only thing holding them back now is a question of willingness. Is Italy finally getting serious about developing women’s football?
The answer to this question can be found in the fact that they’re finally allowing them to become professionals. This is a sign of serious intent, and proof that the country is headed in the right direction.
The story doesn’t end here, however. Rather, it is just beginning. We will wait with bated breath to see what happens next and will report the details about these developments, as they’re made available to us.
For now, let’s just live in the moment and take the time out to celebrate this monumental step forward.
Side Note: I must end this by giving a special thanks to the two people who helped me write this piece.
You know who you are. I got you.