When the Matildas captivated the nation and led the cry for gender equality in Fifa prize money for future World Cups, the football community backed Australia’s best female footballers in. But at the same time, women playing in the country’s National Premier Leagues say they are being treated unequally with their own “backwards” prize money pay gaps.
In South Australia, players in the Women’s National Premier League (WNPL) compete for less than a third of the prize money that the men play for in the state’s National Premier League (NPL).
Football South Australia’s 2023 competition operating regulations show the association offers $18,000 in prize money to the men’s NPL team that wins the grand final, while the women’s equivalent receives just $5,000. The total prize money allocated to men’s NPL teams in SA is $53,000 compared with $12,500 for WNPL teams.
“It’s so backwards and it doesn’t make any sense,” said Isabel Hodgson, who is the captain of ALW team Adelaide United and, like many Australian female footballers, also plays in the WNPL between March and September.
“They talk about equality and about this Women’s World Cup and how great women’s football is, and then, they openly give the men more prize money than us,” she said.
The operating regulations of other state associations including Football Western Australia and Football New South Wales show prize money is equal between men’s and women’s NPL teams. Football Queensland said it does not offer prize money for WNPL and NPL teams. Football Northern NSW – a smaller association which governs northern regions of the state not covered by Football NSW – also appears to have a pay gap, with first grade premiers in the men’s competition receiving $10,000, compared with $1,500 for the women.
Rachael Quigley, a WNPL premiership player for West Adelaide and player of the year in 2022, said she did not realise how big the prize money discrepancy was.
“I think we need to make more noise about it,” she said.
“It definitely makes us feel women aren’t good enough, that we’re a bit worthless I guess … Especially after how successful we were in the World Cup, we need to show there’s a pathway and incentive for women in sport.”
The WNPL and NPL are feeders to Australia’s professional A-Leagues. They are the highest state-based football leagues, and many players are on paid contracts. There is no prize money in the A-Leagues but Football Australia mandates that the minimum contract wage apply to men and women.
Unlike the A-Leagues, in which the men have a slightly longer season, the SA WNPL and NPL seasons run for the same length and clubs require identical commitment and time investment from men’s and women’s players.
“It’s the exact same program,” Hodgson said. “We train at the same facilities, we train the same nights a week. But when we win the grand final, we get five grand between us, and they get 18.
“You look at the impact the Matildas have had and it’s obvious. But then when you trickle down to your local NPL teams and clubs, the message is, they’re not equal.”
The Matildas have had equal minimum contract pay to the Socceroos since 2019 and Football Australia has passed on the same minimum percentage of prize money to the Matildas as their male counterparts since 2023. Fifa has also said it will work towards prize money parity for men’s and women’s tournaments by 2027.
Tracey Jenkins, a former Matilda and member of the Football South Australia Hall of Honour, has coached at WNPL level for 20 years and said she was unaware of the gender prize gap in SA and Northern NSW football but was concerned about the message it sent.
“There needs to be some transparency in and around that decision-making process,” she said. “At the end of the day, we want women to be paid equally. They’re out there playing the game, making the same commitment in the same competition.”
Football South Australia did not respond to a request for comment.
SA’s sport minister, Katrine Hildyard, said Football South Australia received government funding as it met the requirement that at least 40% of board members were women. Hildyard suggested there were moves to close the prize money gap.
“We will be encouraging organisations to institute equal prize money and are pleased Football SA intends to do so,” she said.
A spokesperson for Football Australia said the prize money structure of NPLs was driven by member federations, noting the “pace of change often reflects local factors”.
“The prize money is directly linked to the structure of the respective competition including licensing fees and often whether the players are on professional, semi-professional or amateur contracts with their chosen club,” they said.