The dirty little secret behind Italy’s unexpected run through the 2019 World Cup, not to mention all the attention heaped upon Serie A Femminile in the wake of so many traditional clubs establishing women's teams, was the fact that these athletes weren't even considered professionals. Afforded none of the same rights male footballers take for granted (healthcare, long-term contracts, higher salaries etc.), these women played for the pure love of the game, all the while hoping the powers that be would right this wrong.
When reading the bio of any of Italy's finest female footballers it wasn't uncommon to read something along the likes of “when not playing, she is pursuing an economics/physical therapy/teaching degree.” Without the opportunity to make a decent living playing football, these players had no choice but to hedge their bets, so to speak.
With the spotlight of the World Cup and the increased exposure to Serie A Femminile giving them a platform, many of Italy's best and brightest took up the cause, most notably Italy and Juventus captain Sara Gama, who was a frequent advocate for elevating the status of female athletes in Italy.
And, well, it seems as though all her hard work has paid off:
L’emendamento a mia prima firma per il professionismo negli sport femminili è appena stato approvato. Grazie ad @assocalciatori e a tutte le atlete che si sono mobilitate per sostenerlo. Adesso trasformiamo quell’incentivo in scelte concrete, tutti insieme pic.twitter.com/QkSPWAKAYs— Tommaso Nannicini (@TNannicini) December 11, 2019
That Tweet, from Italian Senator Tommaso Nannicini, confirms what we'd long hoped—that the efforts of Gama and countless others wouldn't fall on deaf ears. Earlier today, the Italian government approved an amendment that would extend to female athletes the same benefits and protects afforded to their male colleagues all these years. In a word, they're going to be classified and treated as professionals.
To sweeten the pot and/or provide incentive for clubs and teams across the country, the amendment provides a three-year tax incentive for clubs that enter into “high-level” contracts with female athletes. According to some sources, this incentive may be a complete exemption from certain welfare and social security taxes.
On the amendment, which is just the first step (it hasn't been implemented yet), AIC Vice-President Umberto Calcagno spoke on the importance of this bill:
the amendment to the Budget Law presented by Senator Tommaso Nannicini (PD) and Senator Susy Matrisciano (M5s) represents a first concrete step to give the right social security protections to female athletes, without weighing on the sustainability of women’s team sports. We need to encourage the transition to professionalism of women in sport as happens in other working environments, allowing girls to cultivate talent and invest more serenely in their high level sports careers
We'll have more on information on this when it becomes available, but needless to say this is a massive development. Currently, female footballers in Italy cannot make more than €30,000 per year, so this not only allows top players to focus on football full-time, it should increase Italian clubs’ ability to lure talent from abroad. We'll have to wait and see which clubs take advantage of this, but for reference new Chelsea signing Sam Kerr, who makes €400,000 per year, is the highest paid female footballer in the world, alongside Ada Hegerberg.
We'll save that discussion for another day (though I'm sure we all hope Roma takes full advantage of this), but for now let's celebrate the fact these women were given their just due.