Worth every dollar

By Zoë George

Zoë George is a music journalist and sports podcaster. She’s co-host of Not Your Average Cricket Show and producer and presenter of Fair Play, a show covering issues related to women in sport. She’s also a member of the Wonderful Group, a group supporting women in the media and sport. Zoë has worked in international cricket as an international team manager and communications manager.

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There’s huge pay gap between men and women in sports. Sports podcaster Zoë George is passionate about pay equity and says female athletes should get equal pay for equal play.

“Equal pay… equal pay!” That was the chant that permeated Olympique Lyonnais Stadium in France after the US women’s team won the 2019 Football World Cup. It started as FIFA chief Gianni Infantino and French president Emmanuel Macron stepped out onto the pitch. The US team received 3.5 million euros, runners-up Netherlands got 2.3 million euros. The overall prize pool was 24 million euros, which will double for the next World Cup. The disparity is blinding. In 2018 the winner in the men’s Football World Cup received a 25-million-dollar bonus and the overall pool for that competition was 359 million euros.

Sport, particularly at an elite level, is a job. Athletes are selected to represent their country, dedicating hours upon hours honing their craft and developing their careers. They dedicate their lives to representing us on the world stage. Many are not getting paid, or getting paid very little to do so. Full-time athletes should be considered “workers” and receive the same benefits and protections as those in comparable sectors of the workforce.

The Equal Pay Act, enacted in 1973, says that different pay rates for men and women doing the same work is illegal. The Human Rights Act 1993 applies to all aspects of employment, and expressly prohibits discrimination, including sex discrimination. But “employment” in sport is still segregated, and discrimination on multiple levels still occurs.

Currently the overall gender pay gap in New Zealand is about nine percent. That means that men are still being paid more for doing the same work as women. In the sporting world the differences are stark, and while there is movement towards equality in sport, it’s at a glacial pace.

In August 2019 New Zealand Cricket announced a new agreement under which women at the highest level will be paid a professional wage. This means they will no longer have to work another job to afford to live while they represent their country. But the gap between men and women is still vast. The highest paid White Fern, captain Amy Satterthwaite, will receive a retainer of about $80,000 per year. The highest paid man, Blackcaps captain Kane Williamson, earns more than $200,000 on retainer. Both are contracted by New Zealand Cricket to do the same job – lead a national cricket team on the world stage.

New Zealand is the host of the Women’s 2021 Cricket World Cup. The prize money pool is yet to be announced, but it rose from $US200,000 in 2013 to $US2 million in 2017. The long-term ambition of the International Cricket Council is to move towards equity in the game. Will we see a $US10 million prize pool in 2021, to match the 2019 Men’s World Cup? A lot of that prize pool comes from big broadcasting rights and men’s teams are getting more airtime. It has been argued that the media don’t cover women’s sport because no one is watching; and no one is watching because the media isn’t covering it.

Fortunately this is changing too. More than one billion people watched the 2019 Women’s Football World Cup. In the USA 15 million watched the final, compared with only 11 million for the Men’s World Cup. Research from the Tucker Centre – a leading research centre for Women in Sport in the US – found that tickets for any US Open game involving Serena Williams sell out three times as fast as any men’s game, and her 2015 quarter final against her sister Venus was ESPN’s second most watched telecast ever.

In New Zealand we are seeing more women on our screens. There’s more netball, more cricket, more rugby, and more league involving women. As many as 1.2 million people watched the Silver Ferns at the most recent Netball World Cup. Broadcasters and sporting bodies are starting to see value in investing in the women’s game, because men’s sport has saturated the market. Any growth must come from the women’s game.

Research conducted by Nielsen Sports in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand in 2018 found more than 80 percent of sports fans, more than half of them men, are interested in women’s sport; fans find women’s sport more “inspiring”, “progressive”, “family-orientated”, and “clean”.

A more visible women’s game also leads to more participation by girls and women. In Australia Aussie Rules Football has started to invest in the women’s game. In its first season it drew more than 1.7 million viewers on free-to-air television; free tickets to the women’s games saw crowds rivalling those of the men’s. Last year there was also a 14 percent increase in participation in the game.

Public and free-to-air broadcasting help increase coverage. Publicly funded media organsations like RNZ have a charter setting out their obligation to cover content that reflects our cultural identity. Sport is a part of that identity. Women’s sport is part of that identity. Do we need to start applying quotas to women’s sports coverage in return for public funding?

Sport was traditionally created by men for men’s interests and bodies. For generations men’s sport has dominated the sports news and coverage. Sports newsrooms are still dominated by men, who are more likely to cover the sports they are interested in – those played by men. Men’s voices still dominate commentary.

Women continue to be under-represented in the commentary box and in the sports newsroom. At the recent ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup there were only three women in the 24-strong official ICC commentary pool. And when women do take to the commentary box they face a barrage of hate and misogyny. Just last year, New Zealand Cricket president and former international cricketer Debbie Hockley was threatened with violence and subjected to vicious name-calling. Her voice and ability as a commentator were questioned. Despite her test batting average of 52.04 and having captained the White Ferns at the World Cup finals, a petition sought to have her removed from the commentary box. Her employer, Sky Sport, made it very clear that this was unacceptable, but this is not an isolated case.

Sky Sport has traditionally been a male stronghold, but this is slowly changing. With the launch of a new Sports News Channel, several capable, knowledgeable female sports commentators, former athletes, and journalists have joined the roster and I hope we see more women’s sport covered.

You can count the number of female sports journalists on two hands at present. Traditionally women weren’t encouraged to pursue a career in sports journalism. Only about 10 percent of sports media coverage in New Zealand is dedicated to women in sport. And even when women in sport are spoken about, their families, coaches, and beauty are likely to be mentioned ahead of their athletic ability. The growing proportion of women in sports media and sport can help change the conversation.

Besides the on-field results there are wider conversations to be had. It’s not just about equal pay and prize money, but about the business of sport, how we make sport accessible for participants and fans alike.

Engage. You can help influence change. Participate in sport and recreation. Volunteer for your local sporting board. Share a story about women in sport. Talk to your local MP about the Government’s Women and Girls In Sport Strategy and hold them to account. Buy a ticket and support your team.

Here’s your chance to make a difference. Let’s change the conversation around sport from the grassroots to the top. From the left to the right. Because everyone deserves fair play and fair pay.

We’re 100 percent worth it.


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