If there’s been a buzzword in 2018, this is it. From the #MeToo movement, which got its start in 2006 by Tarana Burke, to #WhyIDidntReport and the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, we’ve highlighted women’s struggles all year long, even in sports.
Remember the Serena Williams tennis debacle from just a few months ago? Let me refresh your memory.
Serena, the goddess of tennis, lost her cool—as almost every player does at some point or another—during the U.S. Open women’s final. She got “emotional,” threw her racket down, and had an argument with the umpire over some of his calls.
Now, you can say that it wasn’t very professional behavior, and she should have handled the situation better.
But, let me ask you; was Serena’s reaction any worse than Jared Donaldson’s four-minute long temper-tantrum (you can watch the insane video here on Deadspin) at the Monte Carlo back in April? Or how about Serbian tennis star Viktor Troicki’s memorable tirade that happened during the 2016 Wimbledon? He screamed at the umpire calling him “the worst umpire ever in the world,” smashed his ball above the stands, and stormed off.
In both cases, the men acted like children but walked away with little in the way of consequences. Donaldson received a single code violation and Troicki walked away free. On the other hand, Serena ended up with $17,000 in fines, two violations and a game penalty. Umpires are now even threatening to boycott Serena.
James Blake, a former top-ranked U.S. male tennis player, recognizes sexism when he sees it. Blake came out on Twitter in support of Serena, saying, “I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized,” he tweeted. “And I’ve also been given a “soft warning” by the ump where they tell you to knock it off or I will have to give you a violation. He should have at least given her that courtesy…”
The problem is that when a woman gets “emotional” she’s called “hysterical” and penalized for her actions while a man is called “outspoken” and applauded for standing up for himself.
There’s no doubt that we’ve got a long way to go for gender equality, even if we’ve already come a long way.
An influx of female empowerment in one year isn’t necessarily going to break the glass ceiling and create gender parity everywhere. It’d be nice, but I’m a realist.
The truth is that change comes slowly. Even though it’s been almost 120 years since female competitors were first added to the modern Olympics (1900), how men and women are treated as athletes is still night and day.
The Sports Gender Gap
If a man and a women get out on the exact same field and play the exact same game, shouldn’t they get the exact same pay, competition winnings, and experience? Or at least receive pay proportionate to the viewership and revenues of their sport? It makes sense, right?
You’d think so, but Serena Williams is the ONLY female athlete on Forbes’s The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes, and she ranks 51st!
There’s still a huge disparity in prize money, pay and experience when talking about some of the most popular sports and it’s highly disturbing.
“I cannot think of any other industry that has such a wage gap, really. Depending on country context and sport, a man can be billionaire and a woman [in the same discipline] cannot even get a minimum salary,” Beatrice Frey, sport partnership manager at UN Women, told BBC News.
Worst Offenders by Sport
How bad is the gender gap in soccer? A recent study by Sporting Intelligence found that the combined pay of the top 1,683 female players in France, Germany, England, the U.S., Sweden, Australia and Mexico equals that of a SINGLE male soccer player—Brazilian forward Neymar who will earn $42.7 million for the 2017-18 season.
According to the latest Noob Norm study, men and women play relatively equally. For example, in shots per round, men and women are almost identical—69.6 VS 69.8 respectively. But, when it comes to pay, on average men earn $1,141 per shot while women earn just $274. That equals up to a huge discrepancy in total earnings for the top ten men ($69,326,557) compared to the top ten women ($16,326,557).
NBA players get 50 percent of the revenue brought into their sport. For women, the percentage is in the twenties! On top of that, WNBA players don’t get any jersey sales, while men do. Overall, WNBA players earn just 1.6 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Australian professional basketball player for the Dallas Wings, Elizabeth “Liz” Cambage explained the disparity best in her tweetsaying, “Today I learnt NBA refs make more than a WNBA player and the 12thman on a NBA team makes more than a WHOLE WNBA team.”
Tennis is one of the few sports where the gender wage gap has been narrowed the most. It was one of the first sporting events to offer equal prize money to male and female athletes. Unfortunately, that’s where equal pay between genders ends. Seventy-one percent of men in the top 100 have earned more than their female counterparts. The worst part is that the women’s U.S. Open final drew a larger audience in America than the men’s final from 2010 to 2014, so it has nothing to do with commercial success.
Closing the Gender Gap
If you’re ready to burn the whole building down, don’t worry. There is some good news.
We’re starting to close the gender pay gap. According to a recent study conducted by Women’s Sport Week, 83 percent of sports now reward men and women equally when it comes to prizes. That means in 35 out of 44 sports, women earn the same prize money as men. It’s a far cry from 1973 when not one sport rewarded both genders equally.
But to achieve true equality, it’s going to take far more than establishing gender-blind prize earnings. There also needs to be gender equality in terms of sponsorships, endorsements, contractual conditions and play. For example, no men’s soccer cup has ever been played on artificial turf because it’s been shown to cause longer recovery time, soreness and increased risk of injury. However, FIFA has had many women’s teams play on artificial turf.
We need to start at a grassroots level. Young girls need to be able to participate in any sport they want, even if it’s not traditionally considered a “female sport.” And they should be encouraged to stick with it. According to a UN Women statistic, 49 percent of girls drop out of sports by the time they reach puberty, and this had huge ramifications for the professional and elite athlete world.
“I would promote that boys and girls play the same sports from primary school, because at that stage there are no major physical differences between them. If within the education system children start to play sports together, it would make a real difference in society,” Fiona Hathorn, managing director of Women on Boards, told the BBC.
We also need to start giving the same coverage to men and women on TV. According to a study by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Centre for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, only four percent of sports media coverage goes to female sports. That’s despite the fact that 40 percent of all participants are female. On top of that, female coverage tends to be sexualized with reporters focusing on looks over athletic performance and reporters giving credit to men when possible.
Remember this tweet from the @ChicagoTribune during the 2016 Olympics? Yeah, kind of like that.
And if your argument is that people don’t want to watch women’s sports, think again. According to Ruth Holdaway, the chief executive of the charity Women in Sport, women’s sports have huge commercial value. The problem is that we don’t take advantage of its potential, Holdaway told the Irish Times.
“You only have to look at the women’s cricket world cup this summer where the final, which England won, was a sell-out at Lord’s,” said Holdaway. “It is about brands being able to recognize how they can harness the power of women’s sport. There is a huge demand from an audience but it is about tapping into that market and making it work for both sides.”
A good start to making this change is to put more women on sports board positions. Right now, women fill a mere 18 percent of all board member seats across the 28 International Sports Federations according to an assessment by Women on Boards. It’s even worse when it comes to the 129 National Olympic Committees, where women hold just 16.6 percent of board seats.
Ultimately, a cultural shift in how we perceive women’s sports is needed, and there are some women working to make it happen.
Women Making a Difference
Donnons Des Elles Au Vélos
Each year, 13 women known as the Donnons Des Elles Au Vélos cycle the very same 2,082-mile route that their male counterparts cycle for the Tour de France. The crucial difference is that these women receive no recognition or prize money. They’re out there to prove that they are as good as the men.
“We want to show the rest of the world, that women are perfectly capable of doing and finishing the Tour de France,” Anna Barrero, who completed the three-week race this year, told Mashable. “We want to have exactly the same opportunities as men.”
Sophie Goldschmidt is the CEO of the World Surf League (WSL), and it’s, in part, thanks to her efforts that this year the WSL established equal prize money. In the last five years, the WSL also added two more women’s events to the Championship Tour and upped the quality of the events, making stops in J-Bay, Fiji, Keramas, Trestles and Maui. In addition, the league committed to equal marketing and promotion for the women and men.
“For us, it’s not just about the prize money,” Sophie Goldschmidt told USA Today. “It’s about everything else that goes with it, like allowing women to have a full schedule of events, to showcase their skills in the best locations, and the additional marketing and promotion.”
U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team
Last year, the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team took an unprecedented stand against USA Hockey. They demanded better pay and the same treatment and benefits as the men or they threatened to sit out a major international tournament. They got both.
The team walked away with a $68,000 salary and the same treatment as men get, including the ability to bring guests to competitions, a chance to fly in business class, and disability insurance. In addition, they received benefits such as childcare, maternity leave and the option to compete in more games throughout the year.
“We got what we thought was fair and what they were providing for the men,” Jocelyne Lamoureux told the U.S. News. “We’re really proud of that and we’re really happy with the agreement we came to with USA Hockey.”