It’s been a long time coming for Serie A Femminile to become a professional league. The gears were put in motion after Italy’s success at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
However, the struggles of Italy’s women’s athletes to be recognized as professionals have been ongoing for much longer than that.
Serie A Femminile’s roots date back to the 1960s. However, disinterest, neglect, prejudice, and institutional barriers prevented the league from being established. Those factors would also set women’s football in Italy back several years. Things began to change, however, during the summer of 2019.
The Azzurre surpassed expectations at the 2019 Women’s World Cup with a remarkable run to the quarterfinals, and in the process, the country fell in love with the team. Soon, there were calls to professionalize the women’s game in Italy, including from the president of the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) – the Italian Football Federation – himself, Gabriele Gravina.
Later that year, the Italian senate approved an amendment to the Budget Law of 2020, which opened up the path of professionalism for amateur athletes in Italy. Then, on June 25, 2020, the FIGC officially announced that Serie A would become professional in 2022.
Change in salary
One of the added benefits of professionalization is the salary increases for players. Previously, the maximum salary was €30,658 gross per season (just under $33,000 as of this publish date). The players were also given other stipends, such as travel allowances, flat-rate reimbursements, and performance-related bonuses. That ‘prize money’ could not exceed €61.97 per day for up to five days a week.
Before professionalization, Serie A Femminile had no standardized salary, but now, the players and the staff are guaranteed a minimum salary of €26,000 per year (Sky Sport). Furthermore, the ‘maximum wage’ cap has been eliminated, meaning that teams can pay their best players whatever they see fit.
In addition to the change in salary, professionalization also brings with it other benefits, such as pensions and healthcare. Previously, a player getting a serious injury might have marked the end of their career and would have affected their post-football careers, as they did not have a safety net to fall back on. Now, receiving treatment for their injuries as well as pensions will help them ease back into ‘civilian life’ once football is over. The players will also have maternity leave and will be able to have other benefits, such as applying for unemployment.
The only downside for these new contracts is that they come at great risk for young players. In their specific cases, their contracts may only end if a team goes bankrupt, or if the team decides to waive a player (Football Workshop). Therefore, players have to choose the team they sign for carefully, lest they end up in contracts they can’t get out of.
Promotion of equality in sports throughout the country
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) plans to promote gender equality in other ways by promoting the employment of women in management roles of the sports organizations that fall under its umbrella.
The organization will establish the rules and guidelines for the national and provincial sports federations, associated sports, and other disciplines in a few different ways. This includes identifying the various areas and positions where more women should be promoted and allowed to participate. The governing body will also implement measures to increase the number of women and girls participating in sports.
This ties into previous actions by the FIGC, where the federation had decreed that all of the Serie A Femminile teams must hire people who directly oversee the women’s sectors of their clubs. The actions from both governing bodies are intended to ensure the continued growth of women’s football in the country.
To ease the transition into professionalism, the FIGC has restructured Serie A Femminile’s format. The major change to the league was reducing the number of teams in the league from 12 teams to 10. Ludovica Mantovani, the head of the federation’s women’s football sector, has stated that this measure will be a temporary one”
“By 2025, we want to double the number of [women’s] football players. We will reduce the number of Serie A teams, in the short term, to promote competitiveness. Then we will try to increase them in the long term. We want to achieve sustainable professionalism.”
This is intended to answer questions about the sustainability of women’s football in Italy. The goal of this rule is to prevent the women’s teams from sharing the same fate as the likes of Atalanta Mozzanica, a club that was dissolved after its parent club, Atalanta, could no longer financially sustain them. This is one of the main reasons why the FIGC is working towards ‘sustainable’ professionalism. They do not want a repeat of this.
The reforms also aim to improve the infrastructure for women’s football in Italy. The director wants to see the teams of Serie A Femminile play in venues that are capable of holding 3,000-4,000 spectators. There are currently only a few teams in the league that are undertaking this endeavor. The first one is Juventus, who plan to build a new stadium for their women’s team and their U-19 and U-23 squads. The new stadium will hold 4000-5,000 fans and will be completed this year.
In contrast, other teams might move to already established venues. AC Milan is one of those teams. They are currently entertaining the possibility of moving into the Arena Civica in Parco Sempione, Milan. The venue can hold up to 10,000 spectators and they plan to co-inhabit it with their crosstown cousins, Inter Milan.
But many of the league’s other teams might run into stumbling blocks in the search for larger venues. The framework for football in Italy is famously antiquated and subpar compared to other countries in Europe. If the men’s stadiums are dilapidated and crumbling monuments to past glories, then trying to improve the venues for the women of the country seems like an incredibly daunting task.
The FIGC is trying to find ways around this. One proposal is to allow the teams to play outside of their regions, as they were previously limited to stadiums that were in their particular provinces.
More economic freedom
According to Marca, the players of Serie A Femminile have the same tax incentives as their male counterparts in Serie A. Back in 2019, Italy approved a law that was similar to ‘The Beckham Law’ that Spain implemented in 2004. The law allows footballers to exempt part of their salary from taxes. In Italy, that rate is around 50%. For the women’s players specifically, the first €10,000 of their salaries are exempt from taxes, and the rest is taxed at a rate that is less than the rate of taxation in other countries (e.g. Spain).
Performance-related incentives are another draw to the league. Before Serie A Femminile became professionalized, bonuses to the players were one of the few things that were not regulated. It is not unreasonable to assume that this practice will continue and that teams will incentivize players with big bonuses for their performances.
The newly given freedoms also allow the top-flight’s teams to bring in more quality players. Juventus brought in the likes of Lineth Beerensteyn and Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir to bolster their ranks after a run to the Champions League quarterfinals last season. Inter was able to secure the services of Tabitha Chawinga on loan from Wuhan Jianghan. Currently, Chawinga is making history as she leads the league’s Capocannoniere (Golden Boot) race. If she keeps it up, then Chawinga will be the first non-Italian and African player to win the award.
Meanwhile, AS Roma brought in the likes of Emilie Haavi and Vicky Losada to their team. Their biggest coup was perhaps the acquisition of forward Valentina Giacinti, who was sold to Roma from Milan after a falling out with former coach, Maurizio Ganz. Roma currently lead the league and are in the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League campaign.
Milan were temporarily weakened after the loss of their talisman to a rival team. But the Rossonere then brought in Kosovare Asllani, another high-profile player, to replace the departing forward. A signing of Asllani’s caliber might not have been possible under the previous rules due to the salary cap restrictions.
And Asllani wasn’t the only player the Rossonere were willing to spend cash on. In the late stages of the January transfer window, Milan made an offer to Manchester United for Canadian international Adriana Leon – reportedly £120,000 for a loan with an option to buy. Despite the deal not coming to fruition, the fact that the club were willing to offer that much money for the winger is a testament to the newfound financial freedom that they have been afforded.
Italy spent many years neglecting il calcio femminile and is still several years behind other countries in terms of developing the women’s game. Now, the country is playing catch-up — and doing it quickly.
Italy is a country that is madly in love with football, and the men’s Serie A is still considered to be one of the best leagues in the world. The competition has fallen off a bit during modern times but was arguably at its zenith during the 1980s and 1990s, with the “Football Italia Years” being heralded as its golden age.
Although the men’s competition has lost a bit of its luster, the women now have a chance to restore that shine. These reforms have the potential to spark a football renaissance in Italy and make it a top league in Europe, but this time, it’ll be spearheaded by women.
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