The victory of the Japanese women’s soccer team at the FIFA World Cup tournament in Germany smashed a lot of preconceptions, most of them having to do with Japan’s international sports profile. However, a more specific truism bit the dust Sunday afternoon in Frankfurt when Japan came out on top, and that’s the notion that the more money you spend on a sport, the better your chances. About 1.5 million girls and women play soccer in America in some sort of organized fashion. There’s a popular professional league. Women’s soccer is a huge business. In Japan, about 45,000 girls and women play soccer. The women’s semi-pro and pro leagues are barely solvent, and there are no organized teams in Japan for elementary school girls. In fact, one of the more interesting factoids to come out of the news about the victory is that many of the members of the Japan national team started playing soccer as children on boys teams.
As pointed out in an article in the tabloid Nikkan Gendai published before the championship victory, Nadeshiko Japan was winning in spite of their meager remuneration. Very few of the members have pro contracts. Two members, Aya Samejima and Karina Maruyama, earned the most at one time playing soccer, about ¥5 million a year each, but that’s because they originally played for the Tokyo Electric Power Co. team — in Fukushima, as a matter of fact — and were thus company employees. After the disaster of March 11, Tepco’s soccer team activities were suspended, but by that point Maruyama has already left. She went to the U.S. and played for while but ended up returning to play for JEF Chiba. Gendai says her salary there is “very small.” Samejima stayed with Tepco until March and then moved to the USA, where her salary was better, the equivalent of about ¥300,000 a month. Team captain Homare Sawa earned about ¥3.6 million a year playing for the Nihon TV team, which among women soccer players is considered “good.” NTV dissolved its team not long ago, and Sawa now “makes less” playing for a team in Kobe.
They’re the exceptions, though. Gendai characterizes most of the players’ financial situations as being “borderline poverty.” When the national team was preparing for the World Cup they couldn’t start practice until after 7 every night, because most of the members had part-time jobs during the day at convenience stores and other small businesses. They had to provide their own food and were usually too tired to cook for themselves and so ended up eating a lot of junk food and instant meals, thus obliterating another truism: that athletes have to eat well to win.
Compare this to the men’s national soccer team, which employs its own chef who travels with them wherever they go. In fact, if you compare the two organizations’ financial situations, it’s easy to see how much more “cost effective” the women’s team is. Most of the pay for national players comes through incentives. *Nadeshiko Japan will receive a total of ¥1.5 million from the Japan Football Association for their first place finish at the FIFA World Cup. If the men’s team came in first, they would receive ¥35 million. Second place? ¥25 million for men, ¥1 million for women. Even if the men place in the top 16 they receive some sort of bonus, but the women’s team have to place at least in the top four to receive a bonus. Also, the men’s team receives a bonus of ¥2 million for each game they win during the World Cup final. The women’s team receives ¥100,000 per win. The men’s team even get a bonus for a win during the preliminaries. The women don’t. According to Gendai, seven members of the the men’s team received a total of ¥20 million each in various bonus payments from the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa, even though the team only placed in the top 16.
It’s not clear what the women will receive after their stunning victory. If the USA women’s team had won, they would have received from the relevant American soccer association a bonus of $3 million, or ¥237 million, not to mention lots of promotional opportunities. (At present the members of Nadeshiko Japan are only being used for a lowkey ad campaign for the lunchbox chain Hotto Motto.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but do these figures make the Japanese women’s victory all the more impressive? Local news are already reporting projected “economic effectiveness” of ¥1 trillion. It’s difficult to get any more impressed with the team at this point, but even taking into consideration the size of the men’s soccer market compared to the women’s soccer market, already the Japanese language Twittersphere is exploding with one sentiment: Given what these women have done for Japan, not to mention the Japanese media, they deserve to be paid.
• Update: TV Asahi this morning (July 19) clarified that FIFA pays the winning team of the WWC $1 million, and that the JFA would likely pay each member of the team ¥1.5 million out of these winnings (not a “total” of ¥1.5 million for the entire team, as reported above), though that figure has yet to be confirmed. Also, Kirin, which is a sponsor of the national soccer teams, says it will award each member of Nadeshiko Japan ¥1 million.
• Update 2: It was reported by the media this morning (July 20) that JFA has decided to reward each member of the Japan women’s soccer team with ¥5 million, which would seem to mean that they added something to the FIFA prize money.