A Score for Feminists: Israel Pledges Equal Budgets for Men's and Women's Soccer Teams

The state’s promise came in response to a petition by women’s soccer teams

Female Israeli soccer players holding up signs outside Israel's High Court of Justice.
Orna Cohen

Israel’s female soccer players scored a victory in their battle for equality last week, when the state informed the High Court of Justice that it would provide women’s soccer with the same funding it gives men’s soccer.

But the pledge is only valid for one year, during which the state will review and revise its funding criteria.

The state’s promise came in response to a petition by women’s soccer teams, which demanded equal funding. Following a stormy hearing about two weeks ago, the court advised the Culture and Sports Ministry to cancel a regulation that discriminates against women’s soccer.

That recommendation caused the state to reconsider its petition, and it informed the court last Monday that the regulation in question – which says the government will only fund sports that have at least three divisions, would be canceled.

As a result, every team in the Women’s Premier League will receive an additional 150,000 to 200,000 shekels ($43,000-$57,000) in the coming weeks. That will increase the teams’ budgets by more than 100 percent, enabling them to develop the league, whose continued existence had until now been in doubt.

But since the overall sports budget hasn’t changed, this means many teams – including in sports other than soccer – are likely to be badly hurt by the decision. For instance, the Maccabi Haifa men’s soccer team, which has hitherto received 161,345 shekels a year from the state, will now get nothing.

“This was the opening shot in the race toward the necessary change,” said one of the players at the forefront of the battle, Oshrat Eni. “The Sports Ministry and the state recognized the mistake they have made for years, but at the moment, we’re only talking about the 2019 budget. It’s necessary to change the criteria for allocating funds.

“It’s necessary to change the approach and develop women’s soccer through extra funding, greater exposure, proper facilities and a change in management,” she added. “Professional management of the league will bring about a change in social recognition that will lead more girls to play soccer in every inch of this country and develop as professional players in every respect.”

Attorney Uri Kahana, who represented the petitioners, called the decision “precedent-setting,” adding that the court “proved, and not for the first time, that it’s the most important legal agent for change on the feminist battlefront.” However, he added, the court “will have to decide the implications of its decision for making up funding from previous years and budgeting for the coming season.”