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?
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.
Top Image: BBC
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