How about better support for our top professional sportswomen?
By Prue Hyman
A couple of years ago I wrote a column about yet another controversy on women receiving the same pay as men, in this case for winning a grand slam tennis event – perhaps the only sport where this has been achieved.
Women’s tennis is just as popular as men’s in all respects including TV coverage and sponsorship and so has reached this status.
My column pointed out the strong feminist fight to achieve this and paid tribute to Billie Jean King and others for their work on the issues. Her victory over Bobby Riggs has recently received new attention with the excellent film Battle of the Sexes dramatizing the lead-up and the match.
NZ does comparatively well for women’s sport – netball has full TV coverage while Lydia Ko and our successful Olympian and Special Olympian women medal winners get major attention. And the
growing sports of women’s cricket, football and rugby union/rugby league are increasingly televised here, with the realization that the skills are just as great in the women’s version, and only the sheer power is inevitably greater in the men’s games.
Increasing TV audiences have increased with NZ’s great performances and the appreciation of the skills displayed. This in turn helps dispel the economic rationale for lower rewards for women. The vicious circle of lower crowds and TV audiences leading to lower rewards and vice versa is starting to be eroded.
However, there is a very long way to go in NZ as elsewhere. The Black Ferns have recently won their rugby world cup for the fifth time in six tournaments.
And as a result, they received the accolade of being the top team in world rugby, the first time for a female team to be recognized in this way. This is a great signal of change: but of course they still continue to receive very little pecuniary reward. Only our women’s Sevens team have year round contracts – and these are still a tiny fraction of that earned by the men’s team. Bringing glory to NZ and the team ethics and spirit may be a partial reward, but money talks!
One male commentator said: “To understand what drives the Black Ferns one must remember all that is good about the game and think about fundamentals: spirit, fair play, camaraderie, passion, pride, and the notion that the team is always bigger than the individual. The Black Ferns never once complained publicly about resources, allowances, pay parity, or the delicate balancing act of combining sport and work.
They sure could have, but they did not.” (https://thespinoff.co.nz/sports/29-11-2017/a-group-of-amateur-women-are-undeniably-the-best-rugby-team-in-the-world/)
Many players are very careful on what they say about all this which is not surprising – they have to survive in the sport! After the tournament, though, the issues are being raised, and former Black Ferns captain, Farah Palmer, as the first woman member of the Board of NZ Rugby will be a major player in the debates.
I’m a fan of grassroots sport and mass participation, with money generated from those attending top sport being spent mainly on encouraging this. But of course having top players as role models does help generate this greater participation. And we can only compete at the top level with larger countries if top players have the time to train together and compete without having to juggle this with full time paid work.
One sportswoman goes public on discrimination
One women footballer has gone very public on the issues with Sarah Gregorius, a former Football Fern, giving her perspective on the fight for equality in professional sport. As a youngster, meeting the
All Whites squad before an international match, she says she never forgot that afternoon for many reasons.
It “was the first time I recognised that male and female athletes were treated differently. There was no fanfare when the Football Fern came along – no big bus, no posters of her and her teammates, no hype,” She saw this throughout her professional football career but sees the possibility for change.
The Professional Footballer’s Association has entered into negotiations with New Zealand Football for a single Collective Agreement that gives both the All Whites and Football Ferns equal conditions, particularly with travel entitlements for the women raised to business class.
She argued that this would be symbolically huge and a world first – as well as enabling the players to be at their best after travel.
Her experience had been ‘a slow erosion’. “To not feel recognised or valued for your efforts continuously over time, to have to fight and scratch and claw for the dignity and respect so easily granted to someone else of the opposite gender doing the same job as you, wears you down.” Equal business travel would be a start, but fees and wages for playing also has to be addressed.
Breaking the vicious circle
Breaking the vicious circle of greater gates, TV, sponsorship and the rest for men’s sport leading to greater rewards will take a lot of time and work.
Think about the America’s Cup and rugby already having major resources and still getting a large measure of government support.
As an economist I suspect that the arguments made for vast multiplier effects and rewards to the economy overall vastly exaggerate the gains for this. Instead of giving to those who already have so much, let’s work on improving the situation for women both in grassroots and professional sport.