On Sunday morning, I didn’t set an alarm to remind me that it was match day. For the first time since I became a football player, I didn’t turn up to play. There weren’t any matches in the Spanish women’s first division: we all walked out. It was our decision to go on strike, but I’m upset that we were driven to do it.
When I started kicking a ball around for fun, I never imagined football would be my future. But after many years of hard work and struggle, of achieving much in return for nothing, we’re now starting to realise how much wealth we produce. We’ve been patient, conscious of the fact that women’s football needs to grow before we can claim our rightful place. Now we feel that moment has come, that the game has grown enough for those who make it a reality to get the recognition we deserve.
We’ve all made many sacrifices along the way. We’ve prioritised football over our studies and working life, and we’ve done it because we love the game enough for it to feel worthwhile – and because we believe in a better future for those who come after us. But the time has come for the players to stop mortgaging their future in exchange for nothing.
Those who believe this is all about money don’t understand our journey and our struggle. What we’re focusing on is gaining decent working conditions. We want equality, equal rights. We want to be given our due as football players, so that when a colleague is seriously injured and can’t play, they don’t lose part of their salary. We want to be able to plan pregnancy during our careers without having to worry that we’ll lose everything.
What forced us to go on strike is the working week. The way we see it, we dedicate ourselves exclusively to football. However, the football clubs association employs those who are on part-time contracts for only half the working week. It’s clear to anyone who follows football that it takes total commitment to reach the level that we’ve achieved. We spend long hours training, travelling and playing. Players shouldn’t be treated as part-time workers. Although that’s what we believe, in order to reach an agreement we were prepared to sign a contract for 75% of the week, but even that was refused. This is a key question on which we now, a week later, believe there is progress.
Some might think that we simply want to earn more, but that’s not the case. We are focused on the importance of our career – a career in which someone who has to retire through injury deserves compensation in keeping with their performance. And should they end up without a team, we think they should be entitled to unemployment benefit; when they reach retirement age they shouldn’t have to look back with regret at all those years as a footballer when they didn’t contribute enough to get the minimum pension.
The strike is on hold for now, while new talks take place. But if we don’t agree a new deal by 20 December, we will strike once again.
These negotiations have become a nightmare. I’d like to wake up from it confident that players younger than me will only have to think about giving their best on the field, without the fear that they are mortgaging their future.
• Ainhoa Tirapu is a goalkeeper for Athletic Bilbao and the Spain women’s national team. This article was translated by Stephen Burgen