Sports writer, Nancy Frostick, explores the recent controversies surrounding equal pay in sport.
The hotly debated issue of equal pay in sport has reared its ugly head again with the news that five top female footballers have taken legal action against the US Soccer Federation. The announcement that Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn have filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission comes just a few weeks after a similar debate in tennis, where Novak Djokovic sparked controversy by suggesting women should not earn equal prize money to their male counterparts. Djokovic’s argument largely came from the view that, as men’s matches attracted bigger crowds and drew greater revenue, they should see the rewards of this in prize money. However, the challenge by the USA national team players shows that equal pay in sport depends on more than just ticket sales.
The financial argument
‘It was revealed that the women’s national team generated million more than the men’s team last year, but female players were paid four times less than their male counterparts…’
The suggestion that women’s tennis tours “ride on the coat-tails of the men” (said by Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore) does not hold true across women’s sport as a whole, and really falls down with the challenge of the women’s soccer players. In a new report released by the US Soccer Federation, it was revealed that the women’s national team generated $20 million more than the men’s team last year, but female players were paid four times less than their male counterparts. This shows quite the gender reversal of “riding on coat-tails” that has been left to pass unnoticed until now. The idea that whoever sells more tickets should get more money doesn’t really count for much considering tickets to men’s sporting events are often vastly more expensive than for similar women’s events, boosting revenue figures out of proportion to the number of tickets sold. Even the suggestion that men’s events draw bigger TV crowds and revenues isn’t always true, especially in tennis where certain players can draw bigger audiences. The 2014 US Open final between Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki drew an audience of 4 million, where as the men’s final in the same year did not even get 2 million viewers. Likewise, the 2015 women’s world cup final between Japan and the USA broke records by becoming the most watched football match of all time in the USA, with 25.4 million people tuning in – millions more than watched the men’s national team in Brazil a year earlier.
The performance problem
Always a favourite of the internet troll is the argument that “girls can’t play sport as well as men”, so why should they be paid the same? But, that’s not a comparison that the US women’s soccer players and other female athletes are trying to draw. What wage equality really boils down to is men and women being paid the same amount for doing the same job. So, as the number one female tennis player in the world last year with a win rate of 94.64%, it is unfair that Serena Williams was only awarded $10.58m compared to men’s number one Novak Djokovic’s $21.65m for an equally impressive 93.18% win rate. To go back to the USA national football teams, the women’s team has now won the world cup three times, whilst the men are yet to make it to the final. Performance should not and cannot be compared in such a simple way as suggesting that because a men’s team would beat a women’s team they should earn more.
‘What wage equality really boils down to is men and women being paid the same amount for doing the same job.
Being grateful for what women have
During the backlash from the challenge of the US women’s soccer players, the US Soccer Federation released a statement expressing its disappointment with the course of action taken by the players given the commitment it has made to building the women’s game. There’s no denying that the US Soccer Federation has done fantastic work for women’s football – they are the best in the world for a reason – but the statement reads like a suggestion that women should be grateful for what they have. In football in particular, this is the message across the world as players that are now professional could only have dreamed of it ten years ago. With major championships paying equal prize money to men and women, tennis has at least made an attempt at equality, as has athletics where it is the same at the World Championships. However, what is clear from the latest challenge by the US women’s soccer players is that they aren’t willing to accept what they are told to be grateful for, especially when they have earned their success against the odds. […]