Korea Rep WWC

Korea Republic women’s national team players fighting for better working conditions


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Korea Rep WWC
  • Korea Republic women’s national team players feel their working conditions are inferior compared to those of the men’s side

  • Women players raised their concerns during a meeting with the Korea Pro-Footballer’s Association (KPFA)

  • The players, supported by their union, invited the Korea Football Association to discuss improvements

Players of the Korea Republic women’s national team are asking for improved working conditions. Supported by the Korea Pro-Footballer’s Association (KPFA), they are inviting the Korea Football Association (KFA) to start discussions on how to solve some glaring issues.

In April, the KPFA’s Secretary General Hoonki Kim organised a meeting with national team players to discuss ideas to advance women’s football. The players unanimously voiced their concerns about their current treatment, which in their opinion is of a lower standard than the handling of the men’s national team or the men’s Olympic (U-23) team.

The players have the impression that the women’s team budget is insufficient, which is illustrated by their travel conditions. Kim said: "Despite being in the national team, the women are allocated regular tourist buses instead of the premium buses that are prioritised for the men's national team and Olympic team. Even when just the women's team is called up, they still travel with regular tourist buses instead of premium buses. This seems to be a serious form of discrimination."

KPFA Women's National Team Meeting (4)
Players from the Korea Republic women's national team
KPFA Women's National Team Meeting (2)
KPFA’s Secretary General Hoonki Kim gives a presentation
Jo So Yun KPFA
Ji So-Yun

Kim continued: "Additionally, the women's national team lacks dedicated training facilities. The men can use a quality pitch at a training centre, but usually the women are forced to take a spare training field, resulting in discomfort during travel between training grounds and accommodation." 

Seo-yeon Shim, who has made over 90 appearances for her country and is also a director of the KPFA, said: "While the men's team accommodation is well-arranged and they stay in hotels close to their training ground, our team lacks a proper arrangement: there is often no clear schedule, and we have to stay in resorts far from the training ground or stadium. This further reinforces the feeling of discrimination among all women players."

Air travel is another issue. When the women’s team travels to away games, the players have to travel in economy class; only a couple of technical staff members and the team doctor are assigned business class seats. Next month, Korea Republic will be playing two friendly matches in USA, which requires an 18-hour flight.

Former Chelsea midfielder So-yun Ji, who currently plays at Seattle Reign and is a co-president of the KPFA, stated that this type of travel will have a negative impact on the players’ performance. "Many of our women’s players have insufficient rest time, with less than five days between matches," said Ji. Players in the Women’s K League often play twice a week. "Considering that player welfare is directly linked to quality of life, I believe that schedule adjustments and comfort should be provided."

So Yun Ji
So-yun Ji

Ji, who has played over 150 times for Korea Republic, referred to FIFPRO research that noticed significant increases in injuries among professional women footballers. Players who experienced a higher frequency of injuries, especially anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, had shorter recovery periods between games or from travel, and travelled longer distances and across more time zones than non-inured players. FIFPRO emphasised the importance of minimising travel distances and reducing fatigue during travel. 

The players also mentioned other problems, including a lack of interpreters and equipment. All women players need to return their sponsored equipment and this leads to uncomfortable moments. Often the players are immediately released after a final match in the international window, which regularly forces them to change their gear for casual clothes at airport restrooms, which the players find frustrating. 

Another frustration, according to goalkeeper Jung-Mi Kim, is that the call-ups and the matches are frequently arranged last minute, leading to matches being played at uncomfortable times such as 6 or 7 pm, and in difficult-to-reach stadiums. "The poor accessibility of venues for A matches and the match schedule also hinder interaction with fans, which is regrettable." 

Jung Mi Kim
Jung-Mi Kim

Secretary General Kim is taking from the experiences of other FIFPRO member unions, who have been trying to improve working conditions of their women footballers. Kim said: "Although women players in countries such as Japan and Australia initially faced many problems while appearing for their national teams, ongoing communication between their player associations and federations has led to significant improvements in their working conditions.

"As we in Korea are just beginning to address these issues, the KPFA will work diligently to resolve them. We have sent an official letter to the Korea Football Association to address these issues and invited them to jointly advance women’s football in our country."