Around 200 players met in Madrid late Tuesday and voted in favor of the strike, which is expected to begin in November after legal requirements are met. More than 90% of voting players favored the strike, which would be the first in women's soccer in Spain.
The move by Spanish women came a few months after U.S. soccer players, led by Megan Rapinoe, used the World Cup in France to bring increased attention to the women's fight for equal pay. The U.S. women's team had sued the federation a few months earlier, alleging gender and pay discrimination.
There have been moves by other female athletes worldwide demanding more equality, from sisters Venus and Serena Williams in tennis to professional surfers and hockey players. The WNBA players' union and the WNBA are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement to improve wages, and the U.S. women's hockey team threatened a boycott of the 2017 World Championships to leverage better salaries and benefits. Female hockey players in Sweden recently decided to boycott an international tournament in Finland because of their unhappiness about pay and working conditions.
The players' and clubs' associations in Spain have been in negotiations over a first collective agreement for more than a year. They disagree over issues including the clubs' decision to limit working hours to 20 per week. Players want at least 30 hours to be guaranteed.
"We feel that we are soccer players fulltime," Athletic Bilbao captain Ainhoa Tirapu said Wednesday. "Some clubs have had players with contracts of 12 hours per week." Players said they have already made compromises, as their initial proposal was for clubs to guarantee the full 40 hours per week.
Changes to the working-hour limits would give players a minimum wage higher than the 16,000 euros ($17,800) currently offered by clubs. Tirapu, a goalkeeper who also played for Spain's national team, supported the strike because no significant progress had been made after 18 meetings.
"It's not only about the money, it's about our rights," she said. "We hope to reach an agreement at some point, but we need this drastic measure because it's the right moment for women's soccer. This is not being done for ourselves, it's being done for our future players."
Among other issues is the protection of benefits for players in the event of pregnancy. The clubs claim they can't afford the changes currently proposed. Spain has 16 first-division women's clubs, but only a few are fully professional. Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have been among the most successful teams in the league. Real Madrid will field a side in the league from next season after completing a takeover of Deportivo Tacón.
Women's soccer has grown rapidly in Spain since the 2015 World Cup, when the country made its first appearance in the showcase tournament. Calls for greater equality for men and women in the sport have increased significantly since then. More major corporate sponsors have investments in the sport, and media coverage has increased considerably.
More than 60,000 people were at Atlético Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last season for a game against Barcelona. The league said it was a record for the highest attendance at a women's club soccer game.
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