amateur sports

Pro athletes treated like amateurs

Being an athlete is a full time job with intense hours of training and daily sacrifices. So, professional sports should be rewarded as full time jobs. With benefits, rights, and protections. Plus an adequate salary. Not to mention an equal salary. 

Indeed, they should. But they don’t, not in Italy. In fact, Italian professional athletes often fall into the “amateur” category because the law allows it. They don’t have any protection in place, not for their safety nor for their future. After all, they don’t even have a real contract. 

Being pro doesn’t pay

The regulations on the industry date back to 1981, when the law put the burden on the single federations. The clubs could decide whether they wanted to become professional sports. This was true for both women and men’s sports.

With the exception of four men’s categories -and men only. These are: soccer (up to Lega Pro), basketball (only for A1 championship), cycling, and golf. 

Where is the contract?

It’s been 40 years and nothing has changed. Not even when it comes to contracts. In fact, Italian teams never went professional.

Why? Because amateur sports equal less pay, less rights, and more income -for the clubs, not the athletes. 

Instead, they have financial agreements, not contracts. It’s an agreement with a remuneration for the activity or a reimbursement of expenses. These documents also forecast the possibility of a unilateral termination if the athlete doesn’t compete for a certain amount of months due to injury. Or pregnancy. 

The choice between motherhood and sports 

While the contracts are the same for amateurs, no matter the gender, the clause on pregnancy is a luxury for women. Often, the agreements include the immediate withdrawal of the athlete in case of pregnancy. Clubs let go of the future mothers, like it happened to volleyball player Lara Lugli.

Inspired by Lugli’s experience, the association Assist (the national organization for female athletes) launched the initiative #IOLOSO, aka I Know. In support of women’s sports, players went to games with a ball under their shirt, even men. A fake tummy for a real issue. Luisa Rizzitelli is the president of Assist. 

“The fact that even men are participating,” Rizzitelli said to the University of Padova, “shows that this is not merely a women’s issue. But it involves the entire society and it’s a sense of justice that belongs to everyone.” 

A fund for justice

Since the Italian law and the teams don’t defend and protect their female athletes, the association Assist established a fund in 2018. Its aim is to protect future mothers who make a living with sports by providing them with euro 1000 (around $1500) for 10 months.

The funds come from the Italian government, proving that even the state knows there is an issue. While the amount isn’t mindblowing, it is a symbol. 

A symbol not only to pressure clubs, but also to the fans. In fact, when the volleyball player Carli Lloyd (of the team Casalmaggiore) announced her pregnancy in late 2020, the supporters didn’t take it well. They sent her hate messages, bullying her into leaving the team. Apparently, if you are pregnant, you are out. 

And no contract protects women. Or professional athletes, both women and men. They are professionals working full time, so they deserve more. And some of them did fight and achieved more. It’s the story of the women’s soccer players of Serie A and B. 

Soccer takes a step forward 

Starting with the 2022-2023 season of Serie A and B, the female players will become professional athletes. After the government announced an incentive of euro 10,7 million to the clubs who took this step, the teams agreed. The funds will go to measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, like the disinfection of the facilities. 

Obviously, the pay will have to change for the soccer players and hopefully it will match the men’s. In fact, right now there is no equal pay for women professional soccer players. 

According to regulations, women can be hired for a maximum of three seasons, receiving no more than euro 30.658,00 per season (gross amount). A big difference from the seasonal salary of male counterpart Ciro Immobile: euro 7,4 million (gross amount).

So, it’s a move forward, but only next season will tell how many steps have been taken. Still, the road to equality in professional sports is long, both for women professional players and men. With only four categories that are not amateurs, the obstacles are truly the ones of an Olympic race. 

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