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Kang Ga-ae: "We're making women’s football more visible in Korea"

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Kang Ga-ae

Kang Ga-ae

Former Korea Republic goalkeeper Kang Ga-ae plays for Sejong Sports Toto WFC. The 32-year-old is one of seven women’s board members of the Korean Professional Footballers Association.

When I first heard about the Korean Professional Footballers Association, I didn’t really know what they could do for us. But after talking with KPFA representatives I realised that we, the women’s players, deserve much better than we are getting. Setting up a committee for women’s players was the next step, as there wasn’t any organisation out there to protect women’s footballers. I wanted to raise my voice to make other women’s players aware about their rights.

I am one of the senior players on my team and, together with Ji So-yun and Yoon Young-guel, I was one of the leaders of the national team before I retired last year. I’ve always had a strong sense of responsibility and I felt I needed to speak up for younger players; someone has got to do it and to me it is easy.

One of the first things we wanted to do was make players more aware of the power we have when we unite ourselves and speak as one. We visited clubs, had video meetings, talked a lot with the players and managed to increase the KPFA’s women membership to around 130 players. We want more players to be involved with the union.

Next on our list is improving the conditions for women’s players. We decided we should do that through promoting our game. The men’s K-League has been around since 1983 and is very popular. The women’s league (WK League) was established in 2009, but there are still people who don’t know that there is a women’s league.

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Credit: Kang Ga-ae

We want women’s football to be more visible and bring more spectators into the stadiums. We have been talking with the WK League to change match times. Last year, a lot of matches were scheduled on Mondays at 16:00. But who can attend matches at that time? Everybody is still at work.

After we raised this, the league decided to schedule one game per matchday during the weekend and there were increases in attendances. More people are coming, bringing friends and relatives. There is a real matchday vibe now. It is a first step; we still want to increase the number of weekend games, and we also want the league to schedule matches during holidays, like other sports do.

We have done more to attract more spectators, such as organising events with the Korea Women’s Football Federation, where young fans could meet players, and encourage those fans to visit more WK League games. We also ran the KPFA Youth Clinic Program, which were girls football tournaments to develop players and educate them about their rights at the same time. At these events we noticed young girls were so impressed by meeting with the players, that they talked about becoming a player themselves. Hopefully, some of them end up in the women’s league too.

Another initiative is the WK League Awards, which are co-hosted by the KPFA and the football federation. Until last December, there was no event to celebrate the achievements of women’s players, or any event where we could meet. These awards help promote the women’s league and serve as a motivation for players to increase their performance.

We first want to improve the status of the women’s league but once we have achieved that, we should focus on our working conditions. The top women’s players in our league don’t have a problem living from their salary, but younger players might. Most of them are provided with accommodation and food by their clubs, but they can afford little else.

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Credit: Kang Ga-ae

One of the main challenges is the WK League’s maximum wage. It has been there since 2009, and although the cost of living has increased significantly over the years, the maximum wage has remained the same for the last 13 years. After around five years, many players have reached the maximum wage, and it doesn’t matter how much harder they work or how much better they perform, their salary will not increase. I have also been earning the same salary for many years. Women’s football is the only sport in Korea to have a wage-limit, which is heart-breaking.

Player health is also an important issue. We spend a lot of time together – I see my team-mates every single day – and I noticed that a lot of colleagues were coping with mental health problems. The women players’ board raised this with the KPFA, and recently the union signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an organisation that provides mental health care. This arrangement enables players to talk with experts about their mental health or other personal issues. It will be very helpful, and I encourage all players to make use of this service.

Solutions such as this are the main reason why I joined the KPFA women’s executive board: I want to help create a better working environment for the players. It motivates me seeing youth players grow up, teaching and encouraging them, and hopefully playing together with them once they have become professional players as well.