Chris Wood has helped broker a new deal that treats New Zealand’s male and female national-team footballers equally in terms of pay, prize money, image rights and travel conditions – an unprecedented arrangement in world football.
“This is the way it should be,” said the Burnley striker who as captain of the men’s New Zealand team and board member of the New Zealand Professional Footballers’ Association (NZPFA) was involved with negotiations with the national football federation.
Woods has seen elite women footballers struggle with pay and conditions. His sister Chelsey represented New Zealand, while his girlfriend Kirsty Linnett is at Reading, currently third in the English women’s league. Wood knows many New Zealand women players personally.
“I am just lucky that I’ve got people around me that opened my eyes to the situation,” the Premier League striker said. “Other male players don’t see the side of it unless it is forced upon them or until someone shows them.
“I have heard what the women have gone through and we wanted to make sure that they never have to do this again, because it is not right.
“I know the men’s team brings in more revenue. But the women bring in more exposure to New Zealand football because they are at the World Cup on a more regular basis and have done extremely well against top nation sides like France, Sweden and Spain. We, the men, very rarely get to play top teams.
“We bring in a good chunk of revenue, but we believe that revenue should be split between both men’s and women’s football.
“The women have been to countless World Cups and have been in the World’s top twenty for the last six years. They are entitled to the exact same deal as us, because they do the same job as us.”
The key improvement in this deal through 2020 is that female players will travel business class on long-haul flights for the first time. Wood convinced his male teammates – who have been flying business class since the 2010 World Cup – to support the women’s request for business class travel.
“That was simple,” Wood, Burnley’s top scorer this season, said. “When I had to travel back in economy class I could not get off a plane and play football within four days. It would be physically impossible and very detrimental for my body. The risk of injury would be extremely high.”
Some women’s national team players are with clubs in Europe and the U.S. and have to travel up to 30 hours to reach New Zealand.
Chris Wood and Sarah Gregorius
“Travelling affects your performance,” said New Zealand women’s player Sarah Gregorius, who is also a representative of the national player association. She played for Liverpool and clubs in Germany and Japan, regularly experiencing the physical consequences of long-distance travel.
“When you arrive, you are a zombie and have difficulties functioning. Your muscles are tight from being cramped up so long. It takes three to four days to be able to train properly. On top of that you have to deal with a jetlag due to the time difference.”
“I frequently got sick, when I arrived both with the national team and with my club. It takes a long time to get over these lingering illnesses. If you have to play a game a couple of days after landing, your performance will only be at 70 or 80 percent of your ability.”
Gregorius said the new deal will have a “massive” effect on the New Zealand women’s team (known as the Football Ferns), and is grateful for the solidarity of the men’s team (All Whites).
“In a few years, when we are going to have to negotiate a new deal, we don’t have to do that as 30 Football Ferns and 30 All Whites, but we will actually be doing this as 60 elite players from New Zealand speaking with one voice.
“We stand alongside the men and they stand alongside us and we support each other.”