Despite their recent World Cup success, women in football still face challenges

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Việt Nam players celebrate their 2-1 victory and qualification of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This will be the first time Việt Nam appear on the world’s biggest footballing stage. Photo FIFA.com

HÀ NỘI — Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính has dubbed Việt Nam’s national women football team ‘diamond girls’ after they qualified for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time, despite all the challenges they face off the field.

He said they showed the talent, intelligence, will and mettle of Vietnamese people as they overcame hardships to bring home victories. Their success also spread positive energy to national supporters and sports lovers.

They have won the Southeast Asian championship three times, the Southeast Asian Games six times and at the in Asian Cup last month they were in the top five. Qualification for the World Cup is the greatest achievement of the women’s national team.

Hard life

PM Chính however expressed worries about the difficulties that female players face. Some cannot ensure a quality standard of life and struggle to earn money after retirement from the sport.

“Currently our income is much better than in the past. I am a player in the first team at my club and a member of the national team so I receive a pretty good salary and bonus,” said defender Hoàng Thị Loan. She earns VNĐ12 million (US$524) per month when she plays for the national team.

This income is the highest among Việt Nam female players and only key players in Hà Nội and HCM City, who have abundant financial sources and good sponsors, are paid.

At other clubs, players only receive several million of đồng. This is lower than the average pay of a factory worker, who are considered among the lowest-paid people in Việt Nam.

Low income is also the main reason for early retirement or job changes.

Sơn La FC is a typical example. Ten years ago the team was home to almost 30 members. However, this year the team have asked the leave the national championship as they only have four players available.

“My players quit to return home to get married and to become workers,” said coach Lường Văn Chuyên.

Chuyên said his players receive VNĐ3 million ($131) per month. When there is a tournament, they will get a little more money for training and competing at the event. But it is occasional and is a maximum of VNĐ7 million ($306).

However, if they work in factories they can earn up to VNĐ10 million ($437).

Thái Nguyên FC has a similar structure; their players return to training when there is a tournament, but otherwise, they are workers.

“They are paid about VNĐ3-4 million for playing football, whereas in industrial zone factories they can make up to VNĐ7 million. We cannot refuse when they ask permission for extra work,” said coach Đoàn Việt Triều.

Midfielder Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung in front of her small restaurant in Hà Nam Province. Photo of Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung

To those who are still in love with football, after competitions, they work harder in their free time to nurture their passion.

Talented midfielder Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung opened a small inn at home. Strikers Phạm Hải Yến and Huỳnh Như and midfielder Nguyễn Thị Bích Thùy all have their online business selling clothes, cosmetics and many other things.

Huỳnh Như set up a business selling a Trà Vinh speciality — coconuts. Photo of Huỳnh Như

Another problem that national head coach Mai Đức Chung is concerned about is that many of his ‘daughters’ are still single after retirement.

Chung said what he wants to receive most is a wedding invitation from his athletes, but this only rarely happens.

“They have tried their best for the country and made notable achievements. I hope women’s football will receive good care from all parties so that they can develop better,” Chung said.

“I also want them to have good jobs after retirement. More than that, I want them to live a happy family life.”

His assistant Đoàn Thị Kim Chi used to play professionally.

The striker ended her brilliant career in 2010 and moved to work as a coach for HCM City FC. Now, at the age of 42, she is still single.

Current national skipper Như, 30, and her teammate Yến, 27, used to have boyfriends but are now single again.

“I was in a relationship with a person in four years before breaking up. Playing football means I have no time for myself or him,” said Như.

Coach assistant Đoàn Thị Kim Chi is single after many years playing football. Photo Kim Chi

The only married woman in the team is midfielder Phạm Hoàng Quỳnh. She believes that her husband understands her passion because he is also a footballer.

More support needed

After their World Cup campaign, the women’s team were promised almost VNĐ27 billion ($1.2 million) in bonus from different enterprises and organisations.

It is not the first time they become the centre of the community and they expect better lives, if bonuses are delivered.

However, to date, only part of the cash has arrived. The rest, currently, is only promised.

The 2015 Golden Ball winner Nguyễn Thị Minh Nguyệt said she and her teammates encourage each other overcome their challenges, although they knew it is difficult to change their future and the attitude of people towards women’s football.

“We lift each other up, thinking that if we try our best, fans will support us. But we know, there will be little change,” said Nguyệt, who is now a fitness coach.

“People promised a lot but then, did nothing. It is not just in Việt Nam that women’s football is also overlooked. I want my successors to be treated better. I hope that promises will be carried out, and are not just words. And most importantly, if I am guaranteed a job after football, it would be great,” she said.

“We suffer many disadvantages but the saddest thing is the salary. I want to cry,” said Dung.

But she was encouraged by her teammate Yến, who believes that if she tries her best and gets good results she will get what she deserves.

At the meet with the team, PM Chính spoke of the attention the ‘diamond girls’ have been receiving.

“We need to have a policy for successful athletes. It will make sure that after their victory ceremonies, athletes’ lives will be well-taken care of, especially after their retirement,” he said.

PM Phạm Minh Chính calls for more attention and support for female football players. Photo of VGP

Chính affirmed that their achievement reflects the strong development of Vietnamese women’s football, and expressed his hope of more support.

He asked agencies, particularly the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, to further review, build and consolidate suitable, synchronous policies to promote women’s football.

The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs was also requested to work on policies towards footballers after their retirement.

The Ministry of Finance would establish a fund for women’s football and issue mechanisms and policies to create financial resources for the sport. — VNS

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