Australia play Japan in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup in June this year.

Story highlights

Members of the team, called the Matildas, are paid an annual salary of $21,000 (US$14,844)

That's below the national minimum wage -- the players say they deserve more

The Matildas became national heroes after reaching the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women's World Cup

CNN  — 

Australia’s national women’s soccer team has canceled a sell-out tour of the U.S. amid a dispute over their pay, which the players say is so low it’s illegal.

The team, called the Matildas, have been negotiating for six months for a pay rise and improved benefits with Australia’s national football body, the Football Federation of Australia (FFA).

Kate Gill, a Matildas squad member and executive with the national player body, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), said the Matildas had made the “difficult decision” to cancel the tour following the FFA’s continued refusal to meet their demands.

“It’s a tough decision for the girls to have to have made but it’s a necessary one and it’s about getting some respect from the FFA. They needed to put their foot down and there needed to be some action taken,” Gill said.

World Cup wonders

In June this year, the Matildas were the toast of the nation after a history-making performance the Australian men’s soccer team have never come close to – reaching the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Although knocked out by eventual finalists, Japan, the Matildas became household names and interest in the game sky-rocketed.

Despite their success and the six-month, full-time training program they completed leading up to the tournament, the team left Canada with just $2,850 (US$2,014) in their pockets, on top of their $21,000 (US$14,844) annual salary.

It’s an amount well below the Australian national minimum wage of $34,158 (US$24,147) per year for a 38-hour work week, and far below the US$70,000 year base salary for a Tier 1 women’s soccer player in the U.S.

The dispute highlights the glaring inequalities that presently exist between men’s and women’s professional sports.

The Australian men’s soccer team, the Socceroos, do not have a guaranteed income; they receive shares in commercial agreements as well as sponsorship bonuses.

Although this makes direct comparisons difficult, Australia’s men’s team would have earned $8,500 (US$6,000) for the match had they reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2014, compared to the Matildas’ $750 (US$530).

That’s despite the Australian women being ranked ninth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World cup rankings, compared to the Australian Socceroos at 61.

Looking at the bigger picture, the U.S. women’s World Cup team received US$2 million from FIFA for their win, compared to the US$35 million the German men’s team collected.

The strike

The PFA has asked the FFA for a pay deal that would see the salary for a Tier 1 female soccer player increase from approximately $21,000 (US$14,841) per year, to $40,000 (US$28,269).

The team is also asking for health care and maternity leave cover, and improved travel arrangements. According to Gill, the players are paid part-time wages for full-time work.

“The workload is professional, but they are treated as semi-professional in terms of the remuneration they receive for the work they are doing,” Gill said.

The FFA has so far rejected the PFA’s proposal, instead offering a salary increase equivalent to approximately 10% over four years.

FFA chief excutive, David Gallup said at a press conference on Thursday that the PFA’s pay demands were “extraordinary” and could not be afforded by the FFA, given the Australian A-league clubs lost $17 million last year.

“This is an opportunity for the Matildas to play the world champions. We all celebrated their success in Canada and it was really a once in a lifetime opportunity… to me it’s nonsense,” Gallup said.

Matilda’s goal keeper, Lydia Williams said that most players had to live at home as they couldn’t afford to pay rent, and many players had also given up their jobs or study due to the training commitments required.

And while she acknowledged that most of the funding for football in Australia was generated by the men’s games at present, Williams said women’s soccer had a great opportunity to capitalize on the support the Matildas’ World Cup success had generated.

“Women’s sport in the day and age that we are in is a relatively untapped area and you can see how the U.S. are capitalizing on all the sponsorship deals and what they are doing, so why can’t we look to achieve the same thing?”