The West Indies won both the men’s and women’s World Twenty20 cricket trophies over the weekend. The men took home $1.6 million in prize money, the women $100,000.
I’d like to know which bright spark in the International Cricket Council thought it was OK to pay the women just 6.25 per cent of what they gave the blokes.
Or how you justify paying Australian male cricketers, who didn’t even make it out of the pool stage, more than the Southern Stars, who made the women’s final for the fourth time running.
I’d like to see them go into the women’s dressing rooms and explain their logic.
“Yes, but…,” some readers will say. Yes, but the men’s game gets more viewers, makes more dosh.
OK, then let’s look at the US women’s soccer team.
They won last year’s World Cup for the third time, have four Olympic gold medals to their name, scored the biggest TV ratings the sport has ever had in the US and made a profit of $16 million for the US Soccer Federation last year.
More profitable, more popular than the loss-making American fellas. But for winning the World Cup, they received $2 million, while their countrymen got $9 million for bowing out in the round of 16.
They’ve now taken the US Soccer Federation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing workplace discrimination.
The Federation says it’s ‘disappointed’ by the move. Which is really missing the point.
“The women’s team does the identical work as the men’s team, except they have outperformed in every way,” says lawyer Jeffrey Kessler.
Sport is peppered with such inequity. In golf, men earn five times more than women. The World Surf League’s Big Wave Awards offer $15,000 for the best overall male performance and $10,000 in the women’s category. Try giving Meryl Streep two-thirds of an Oscar.
Basketball, cliff diving, cycling, darts, ski jumping, snooker, squash — the list of sports paying way more to men goes on.
And it doesn’t stop at the playing field. In the United States, where equal pay legislation has been in place for more than 50 years, women still receive 21 per cent less than men in a comparable job. In Australia, the gender pay gap is 18.8 per cent.
“Sport is a microcosm of society and it’s important sports people take responsibility and step up and lead,” says Billie Jean King, who threatened to boycott the 1973 US Open unless it paid equal prize money. She got her way. That year, Margaret Court’s cheque was the same as John Newcombe’s.
The fight for equality in sport is not only about money. Just ask the Afghanistan women’s cycling team, who’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Retiring Aussie basketballer Lauren Jackson says higher pay for women could result in fewer injuries.
“Why we all get injured and hurt is because we have to play 12 months a year so we can make money to live,” she says.”Whereas men, they play one season and they’re good. They can have a break, they can rehab their bodies.”
It’s a pertinent comment, given Jackson is leaving the sport earlier than she intended because of the state of her knees.
The world’s best female soccer players would like to play on grass rather than skin-stripping, joint-jarring artificial turf.
Basketball Australia sent the men’s team to the London Olympics in business class, while the women flew economy. It has since introduced a gender-neutral travel policy.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about the message we send,” says Billie Jean King. “We are sending the equality message out that this is the right thing to do.”
And there has been progress.
British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe recalls a race early in her career where she won a table lamp and the men’s first place prize was a TV.
Now there’s equal pay in athletics. And they’re paid in cash rather than household items.
Australia’s contracted female cricket players may be fully professional next summer, on six-figure contracts for the first time. It’s not equal pay but it means they can afford to devote their full-time energies to the sport they play for their country.
Thanks to the wheels Billie Jean King set in motion in 1973, tennis grand slam events have long awarded equal prize money.
A BBC Sport study in 2014 found 25 sports that award equal prize money, including archery, BMX cycling, fencing, figure skating, gymnastics, skiing, swimming, table tennis, volleyball, water polo and windsurfing.
The gap, though still wide, is narrowing.
Australia’s Southern Stars are grateful for the inroads that have been made. And they’re paying it forward, contributing some of their meagre World Twenty20 winnings to Australia’s Paralympic team.
“We recognise we’re in a really fortunate position with the support that we get,” says Alex Blackwell.
“It means we can train harder, we can get to these tournaments and prepare well and arrive more refreshed. We now get the same travel arrangements as the men’s team. I’ve been around for a long time now and I’ve seen these changes first hand.
“I guess this is our way of helping other Australian athletes hopefully reach their potential in Rio.”
These women are worth their weight in gold. Maybe one day they’ll be paid that way.