Enough Carping About Gender Pay Inequality In Sports – End Segregation And Let The Market Determine Wages

Olympic Games - Rio de Janeiro - Gender Pay Equality - Sports - Athletics

As the Olympic Games get underway in Rio de Janeiro, in place of the usual social justice nonsense about gender pay equality here is a bold proposal to make gender equality in sports a reality

As Olympic fever starts to build in the run-up to the opening ceremony of the Rio summer games, the New Statesman is distracting itself with a long meditation on why female athletes are usually paid far less than men.

Tim Wigmore ponders:

In March, male and female cricket teams from across the world descended upon India, where the men’s and women’s World Twenty20 competitions were played simultaneously. The International Cricket Council funded all the men’s teams to fly business class, but only paid for the women’s teams to fly economy class.

The integration of the men’s and women’s tournaments only highlighted how differently competitors were treated. The total prize money for the men’s event was $5.6m – 16 times the $400,000 for the women’s tournament.

[..] Women’s treatment in sport has always been a manifestation of wider gender inequality and, as sports evolved and professionalised, became self-perpetuating. The huge funding disparity between male and female sport means that women have had fewer opportunities to play sport, have suffered from inadequate coaching and facilities compared with those enjoyed by men, and have been paid meagre sums, even for playing international sport. This has damaged the quality of sport – and therefore the attractiveness of the product to fans and broadcasters – in two ways. Those that have played have often not been professional, so had less chance to hone their skills; and the lack of financial rewards mean that many leading players have retired prematurely.

Women’s sport has been shaped by administration being almost exclusively a male preserve. This explains why, from 1928 to 1960, women were not allowed to compete in races of more than 200 metres, because it was felt that running for longer made them too tired. It took until 1984 for women to make up one-fifth of competing athletes in the Olympics.

But surely if we are going to look at issues of funding at the school and amateur level (Title IX issues, to an American audience) then we should be more animated about improving equality of opportunity at the grassroots rather than tearing our hair out because Serena Williams (a millionaire many times over) is paid less than Roger Federer?

If we could drop the leftist insistence on equality of outcome then it might be possible to have a meaningful discussion about precisely how the issues raised  by Tim Wigmore (inadequate funding, male domination of sports administration bodies etc.) actually filter through in terms of take-up of sport and the technical levels achieved. And we could then consider if measures should be taken upstream to address the gender disparity, and what (if any) role the state should play in correcting the imbalance, considering that this is supposedly a time of “austerity”.

But time and again the discussion seems to drift back to the question of prize money awarded at top professional events, which is frankly ridiculous. Wigmore continues:

Yet the most lucrative sports remain far away from equalising renumeration. Even in sports with equal prize money for marquee competitions, there are often huge discrepancies lower down. In tennis, Novak Djokovic, the men’s number one, earned twice as much as Serena Williams, the women’s number one, last year – although both won three of the four grand slams, the less prestigious men’s tournaments pay far more than the women’s events. In football the differences are even starker: there was £22m in prize money for the last men’s football World Cup, but only £630,000 for the women’s tournament.

The differences are far greater in club competitions, in which women’s teams have struggled to gain a following. The total attendance for the last season of the Women’s Super League was 57,000; for the Premier League, it was 13 million. The stark discrepancy explains why Steph Houghton, the best-paid female English player, earns around £65,000 a year, while Wayne Rooney receives £300,000 a week. Similar forces are at work in professional basketball in the US: last season, the maximum salary for a female player was $109,500; for men’s players, the minimum salary was $525,093, and the maximum $16.407m.

Wigmore answers his own question here by citing the attendance differentials between the men’s and women’s leagues in British and American football (soccer). The gulf in public interest between the two leagues is huge (even if unjustified – one of the most entertaining football matches I have seen was a women’s game at the 2012 London Olympics). If we are to break the link between popularity and pay, why should the link between talent and pay not be similarly abolished? Why not pay every football player, male or female, a flat salary regardless of which league they play for and which position they play in? If teams can no longer set wages based on value added then we essentially end up with communism.

If more people watch the male version of a sport (generally because it is played at a higher level in terms of physical capability and endurance, if not technical skill) then surely this should be reflected in the prize money awarded? Prize money, after all, comes from ticket sales and television revenues and commercial opportunities. If male players draw in a disproportionate amount of total revenue, why should the fruit of their labour be redistributed to women?

Equal Pay Sports - men and women

The New Statesman even concede the point here (my emphasis in bold):

The greatest cause for optimism is in the rising quality of female sport: the gradual increase in spending on women’s sports is now being reflected in a product that more spectators want to watch. When England Women played Germany at Wembley in November 2014, the match was a 55,000 sell-out. Dramatic improvements in the standard of women’s cricket led to the England team turning professional in 2014.

Rising quality. Dramatic improvements. These are blatant concessions that the current (or past) standard of female sport has in many cases not yet reached the level of the men’s game. But even if it did, and there was no discernible difference in terms of technical standard between men and women, why should privately owned sports leagues and teams be compelled to pay the same wages if attendance and viewing figures have not also equalised?

And here we are back to the leftist mindset of wanting to control how people think. Men and women are of inherently equal value, that much is indisputable. But the leftist believes that they must be equal in all regards and at all times, including in the outcomes they experience (such as prize money at top sports tournaments). And if the market does not value the women’s game as highly because the technical standard or endurance is lower, then the market (and the people who make up the market) are wrong and their views should be overridden in the name of equality of outcome. Until we all hold hands underneath a rainbow, singing Kumbaya and assigning equal worth to unequal products in the name of gender equality, the People Who Know Best must step in and set equal wages.

But when has the  coercive approach ever actually truly worked? When has it done anything more than patch over inequalities rather than truly removing them?

Would not the better approach to tackling “inequality” be for sports governing bodies to look at the potential for growth in the female game and then chart a practical, ambitious path to increase female participation and retention in the various sports from school and grassroots level upward, therefore feeding the pipeline with more future stars who would in turn attract more earned revenue?

The danger is that by doing what Wimbledon bosses did and unilaterally setting equal prize money for men and women (despite the fact that women play a maximum of three sets while men play a maximum of five in grand slam tournaments), we not only perpetuate an injustice (male players have to work harder for the same monetary reward) but we also take our foot off the pedal of change; we feel satisfied that we have “tackled” gender pay inequality before we have even looked at the systemic issues which create it in the first place.

So here’s a genuinely egalitarian idea (which the New Statesman will likely never go for, obsessed as they and nearly all leftists are with identity politics and competitive victimhood) – how about we scrap male and female segregation altogether and have mixed teams and leagues based purely on sporting ability and merit?

Sure, there would likely be fewer women than men on the field at, say, the football World Cup, but those who did take the field could say without dispute that they earned their place and their (equal) prize money. In some cases (or at least in some positions in team sports), women may even possess an advantage over men and drive them out of the top leagues and pay grades altogether. Why not find out?

When it came to racial segregation, those fighting for equality through history never satisfied themselves with “separate but equal”. The racist Jim Crow laws had to be fought and overturned and the Civil Rights Act passed in order for the American Founding Fathers’ decree that “all men are created equal” to be deepened and fulfilled in practice as in spirit. Why should we settle for any less when it comes to gender discrimination?

In the workplace, the just cry from those campaigning against pay discrimination is “equal pay for equal work”. So let’s make it a reality in sports. No more bleating for unfair privilege (equal pay for less-watched female athletes, playing at a lower technical level). If we are to be truly blind to gender, let us abolish gender segregation in professional sports altogether, and let women compete with men for places in clubs and teams, and for the top rankings in integrated professional leagues. And let every one succeed according to their merit.

But of course the leftists and the Social Justice Warriors don’t want that. They don’t want people to be blind to race or gender or any other characteristic, but rather want us to exalt in our identities as variously oppressed minority classes. The SJWs derive all their power from policing the boundaries and arbitrating the disputes that inevitably arise from the very toxic culture of competitive victimhood they perpetuate – and if we strip it away then they, together with the entire equality industry, suddenly lose their raison d’être.

But all people are created equal. So let us do what we can and what we should to ensure equality of opportunity in sports (commensurate with interest and good sense), and then end gender segregation in sports to unleash the world’s best female athletes to compete at the very highest level of the game. That would be the egalitarian thing to do.

Let anyone who opposes this step now come forward and explain why they believe women are too fragile and vulnerable to thrive in integrated sports, and why they should continue to be patronised and humiliated by being given unearned equal pay in segregated teams and leagues.

Let the equality campaigners Social Justice Warriors come forth and make their tawdry, outdated and morally dubious argument for the status quo.


WWCup Los Angeles Rally

Top Image: BBC

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Let The Games Begin

And they’re off. The opening ceremony to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is now underway:

Malfunction. Malfunction.
Malfunction. Malfunction.


Hopefully not an ominous portent of things to come at the most expensive Olympic Games in history.

The Winter Olympics Begin

As the countdown to the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi nears its conclusion, Google marks the commencement of the Games:


A timely reminder of the Olympic values, at a time when the host country conspicuously fails to practice them when it comes to respecting and upholding the rights of its own citizens.

I was never in favour of the Olympics being awarded to Russia, especially at a time when that country’s tentative moves toward real democracy were being so rapidly undone and an authoritarian one-party government consolidated its power. Indeed, today’s Russia exhibits almost all of the characteristics that you would not want to see in a country hosting a major international event – corruption on a massive scale, dangerous levels of internal unrest, displacement of local people, oppression of minorities, lack of a free press, suppression of political dissent and the strangulation of democracy in every way.

But in mitigation, it should be remembered that in some very pertinent aspects, we are not so much more “advanced” or enlightened than the Russian state. Andrew Sullivan makes the excellent point that many people from the United Kingdom and United States who are so aghast at Russia’s controversial laws prohibiting “homosexual propaganda” overlook the fact that until quite recently, things were not so different back home:

At the same time, it seems to me we need to be careful not to misread the specific cultural context here. There’s a worrying tendency for some gay activists to assume that because a foreign country is not identical to the US on the question of gay rights, it’s an outrage that must be immediately confronted and changed. But America, only a decade ago, was not identical to the US today. Many states still have in their very constitutions the relegation of gay people to second class status. The last president of the US, George W Bush, wanted to enshrine the inferiority of gay couples in the federal constitution. It’s been only a few years since gays were able to serve openly in the US military. To turn around and then be shocked and appalled that homophobia is still very much alive and well in the Russian rural heartland is more than a little obtuse.

A fair point well made. Indeed, there are a number of British and American pundits and politicians, strident in their opposition to equal rights for gay people, who openly admire and praise the actions of the Russian government. And so I should reiterate that my antipathy is toward the authoritarian, corrupt President Putin and the culture that he has helped to create, and not toward the Russian people themselves.

I will watch the Sochi Olympics with interest, as I always do, and I hope that they are a wonderful sporting success, free from any of the feared violence or disruption. But you must excuse me for not joining in the celebration of the despot Vladimir Putin’s moment of triumph – the man does not deserve a victory lap on the world stage.

On Olympic Mascots

Andrew Sullivan’s blog has been charting the history of Olympic mascots as a response to public bemusement with Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 official mascots.

However, a reader of Sullivan’s blog said it best when it came to “Izzy”, the mascot for the 1996 games in Atlanta:

The reader commented:

If you are going to examine bad mascots, please don’t forget Whatizit/Izzy from Atlanta in 1996.  It was a horrible blue sperm with stars shooting out his ass. It was the disastrous result of too many marketing people throwing everything into the pot. We still are living down the shame of Izzy.

Izzy actually makes Wenlock and Mandeville seem pretty tame and bland by comparison.

Tax Breaks For Gold Medals

Though neither of them have any intention of doing anything about it, in the run-up to the November elections both main political parties in America are at least making noises about the need to reform and simplify the massively complicated tax code in the United States. This is urgently needed – a thick, impenetrable layer of deductions and tax credits doled out by previous Congresses to the favoured special interests or wavering voting blocs of the day have led to an almost incomprehensible system, one which means higher marginal rates overall for everyone and one which benefits almost no one apart from the well-connected and their tax accountants.

So when “rising star” Republican Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, proposed a tax break for US Olympic medal winners on the cash bonuses that they receive from the US Olympic Committee, you would think that the “first do no harm” rule might apply, and President Obama and others would shoot down the idea. Right?

No. President Obama actually supports this opportunistic piece of pandering, according to Matthew Yglesias, writing at Slate:

If they gave out awards for dumb new policy ideas, President Obama and Republican rising star Sen. Marco Rubio would both be medaling this week. Their achievements? Rubio’s completely pointless bill offering a tax break to recipients of Olympic medals and—even worse—the president’s decision to hop on the bandwagon rather than show the country he has a firmer grasp on the issues than his adversaries do. In the scheme of things, of course, winning Olympic prizes is not an important sector of economic activity, and the medals’ tax status doesn’t really matter. But the overall shape of the tax code does matter a great deal, and the speed with which a bipartisan consensus emerged around making it worse bodes quite poorly for efforts to make it better.

Yglesias goes on to provide some essential background that some early supporters of this harebrained scheme appear to have missed:

In this particular case, the issue is that the U.S. Olympic Committee—the nonprofit group that organizes Team USA for the games—rewards athletes with cash bounties for medals won. Gold medalists receive $25,000, silver medalists get $15,000, and bronze medalists receive $10,000. That’s income, so come spring of 2013 when medalists are filling out their tax forms, it’ll be reported and taxed like any other income. Their after-tax income will be higher if they do win a medal than if they don’t. There’s no “extra tax bill” waiting for anyone. There’s simply extra income, and the income would be taxed. (Some people have confused this with the idea that the medals themselves come with a hefty tax bill, but the real tax issue is about the cash prizes.)

Precisely. This is not about suddenly being landed with an unexpected tax bill just because you worked hard and won an Olympic medal. This is about the IRS treating the prize money that the winning athletes receive as an incentive from the US Olympic Committee as income, which it is, and taxing it at the appropriate marginal rate.

Of course, the number of London 2012 Olympic medal winners as a percentage of the US population is miniscule, so the policy, if enacted, would do no real harm to tax returns or anything else. But the blatant favouritism of rewarding Olympic athletes alone with this tax break, while making other “worthy” types pay normal rates of tax, would set yet another ridiculous and rather alarming precedent:

In terms of fairness, it seems like a strange slight to winners of other kinds of prizes. Are Olympic medalists worthier than winners of the Nobel or Pulitzer prizes? And of course exempting all prize income from income tax could merely encourage all kinds of people to restructure their income as prizes. The J.P. Morgan Memorial Prize for Achievement in Investment Banking, anyone?

And then the money quote:

The underlying issue is that taxes aren’t supposed to be a cosmic judgment on the underlying worthiness of people’s activities. The earnings of a great artist and a reality TV show producer are taxed the same. That can seem a bit perverse at times, but having Congress try to assess which professions are important and which are bad would be much worse.

Republicans always talk about how the government should stop trying to “pick winners”, accusing President Obama of doing this with his subsidies for various forms of green energy (and apparently turning a blind eye toward their own efforts to help their own favoured industries). Well, I would submit to Senator Rubio and President Obama that the successful US Olympic athletes have already picked themselves as winners through their achievements in London. They are to be congratulated and afforded all the respect due to a champion, but their accomplishments do not entitle them to a tax break, particularly at a time when the tax code is crying out for simplification.