ATLANTA — Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer addressed his recent controversial comments regarding equal pay for men’s and women’s international soccer teams. De Boer had called a Dutch policy leveling the pay grade for men and women “ridiculous.”
Following Atlanta’s 3-2 win over Club América in the Campeones Cup on Wednesday night, de Boer was asked if he believed his comments were taken out of context.
“Well, especially the word ‘ridiculous’ is very hard if you read it, of course,” de Boer said. “I can understand that people feel that it’s a hard word, if I read it, that word only. If you see the whole context, then I think I was very clear that I always promote women’s soccer. I think I was one of the first, when Ajax had the discussion — when I was training with Ajax, coach at Ajax — we do have to take a women’s team, and look where they are right now. So I will always promote it.
“I said only about one thing. I think if they deserve it, if they are more popular than the men, they have to earn more than men. That’s how it is. And again, the word ‘ridiculous,’ I think that’s a little bit hard. So I already said it in my statement. Hopefully it’s getting popular and popular because I always will support not only women who do soccer, but doing sport because it’s very good mentally, healthy and everything, and also team sports are fantastic, so hopefully we’re going to see a lot of women doing sport and especially, of course, soccer, because I love soccer.”
De Boer then was asked if the controversy caused a distraction for his team going into the game against América.
“No, I didn’t hear anybody talking about it,” he said.
The manager’s original comments were published in the Guardian. Several subjects were covered, including his short time at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, Atlanta’s slow start and recovery in 2019 and racist actions by fans in soccer stadiums. De Boer offered his headline-making quotes when asked about the Dutch women’s national team and the Dutch federation’s recently adopted equal-pay policy.
“I think for me, it’s ridiculous,” De Boer said, as reported in the Guardian Tuesday morning. “It’s the same like tennis. If there are watching, for the World Cup final, 500 million people or something like that, and 100 million for a women’s final, that’s a difference. So it’s not the same. And of course they have to be paid what they deserve to [earn] and not less, just what they really deserve. If it’s just as popular as the men, they will get it, because the income and the advertising will go into that. But it’s not like that, so why do they have to earn the same? I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t understand that.
“I think it started because a woman [was] getting underpaid, especially at [managerial] positions,” he continue. “They have to earn the same as a man. I think if you have a manager position for a bank or something, you have to earn the same what the men did because it’s not physically, just only here [points to head], so why do you have to earn less, because you’re doing the same job as a man? I think that’s also dropped a little bit into the sports world, like tennis and soccer. But I think that’s still different.”
The quotes elicited strong reactions from people on both sides of the equal-pay debate and were widely aggregated by outlets such as ESPN, USA Today and the New York Times. Atlanta United president Darren Eales went on local radio Tuesday evening and addressed de Boer’s comments.
“Let me be clear from the start that this was Frank’s individual opinion on that topic,” Eales said in a regularly scheduled appearance FM-92.9’s Dukes & Bell show. “It certainly doesn’t reflect the position of the club. To be crystal clear, our club is now and always will be supporting equality of strong values and lifting each other up. We want to grow the game of soccer for all to enjoy, and that’s what we stand for. As you guys know, that’s the value that [owner] Arthur [Blank] is known for, and it’s really the core of his personal and business philosophy.
“I mean, look, he used the word ‘ridiculous,’ which got the headlines, and that was a poor, very poor, misguided use of the word. I think that with English being his second or third language, sometimes his words get misinterpreted. But nevertheless, those were unwise words to use and Frank will have to explain his comments. I don’t believe the headline actually represented his true position on the topic.”
Wednesday afternoon, Atlanta released a statement from de Boer in a further effort to calm the backlash.
“I’d like to clarify my comments in yesterday’s Guardian story, the statement read, per Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When taken in its full context, my position is that I wholly respect and support the women’s game and am encouraged and excited by its growth both internationally and here in the U.S. I do believe when it comes to the economics of the game, as popularity keeps increasing it will lead to increased revenue and higher salaries in the women’s game, which is fantastic and what we all want to see. I am proud to be a part of a club that embraces equality, and I apologize for any distraction this has become for our team and organization.”
Pro Soccer USA correspondent Chris Fuhrmeister wrote this article and the Guardian article mentioned above.