DEBATE: Does sport have a duty to battle the gender gap in prize money?

Isabelle Boulert: Yes, the disparity in prize money itself perpetuates the notion of male supremacy.

The idea that women are paid less prize money than men in a majority of sports leaves a bitter taste because it goes against some of the most basic values engendered in sport. Raw talent should have the ability to prosper over any discrimination. Ultimately, the shared appreciation of sporting endeavour should bring people together in the fact that no matter who kicked the ball or passed the finish line first, the fact they did so was beautiful. Should being the operative word.

Why doesn’t this meritocratic sporting ideal alter the reality of the sporting pay gap? The answer is in morally untenable and unsound economic argument about perceived lack of talent.

The decision to give women smaller rewards for their success stems from presupposition that women simply aren’t as good. Women aren’t fundamentally incapable of playing sport at the same level as men are. Women’s talent is left unappreciated or dis- missed because of the presumption that women are inferior and unworthy of investment.

Some argue women are inherently worse at sports. This is an irrelevant biological generalisation. Implying people cannot be individually skilled outside the boundaries of socially constructed gender stereotypes becomes even more ridiculous when you apply it to elite sportspeople, who, by being the best, already stand out from the homogeny.

The perception that women’s sport is of a lower quality results in lower exposure. With less exposure there is less advertising and therefore lower commercial interest to fund pay. The reason that the winning male FIFA World Cup squad was paid £21 million more than their female counterpart lies in false presumptions as supposed to a lack of actual talent.

If prize money was gender neutral there would be an overall increase in commercial interest and investment which would help fund equivalent training centres and skills camps. The result? An improvement in skill level and a reduction in the perception that sportswomen are less talented.

For most athletes, sport is the ultimate expression of identity. The drive to be the best can be universally applicable. To pay someone less for being the best simply because they are a woman is to suggest their identity is fundamentally worth less. That is as morally abhorrent as if one’s racial or ethnic identity resulted in someone receiving less credit.

Until we make prize money equal something as simple as gender is placed on a pedestal above an appreciation of the act of pushing oneself to the limit. If male golfers were paid less because they had brown hair there would be outrage. It would be deemed ridiculous. Pay discrepancy in sport between genders is equally ridiculous. The fact it is more commonplace shouldn’t mean it’s acceptable.

Some suggest that so long as the system of supply and demand dictates sporting prize money nothing will change the pay gap. Others say that this is not only fair but laudable. In reality there is nothing laudable about perfect capitalism where ultimately one group will always be exploited by the system.

As competitive sport has grown in its influence it is seen as a legitimate form of employment. Little boys and girls grow up wanting to be a professional athletes. This dream is no longer as un- realistic as it was a century ago. Legislation is put in place by government to protect individuals from the effects of discrimination in more traditional jobs so why is it not enforced by the governing bodies of sport? Sport may mirror society but in this case the reflection is taking far too long to materialise.

 

James Gutteridge: No, sport is a perfect capitalist model and stars earn exactly what they deserve.

The recent BBC survey which has ‘uncovered’ the gulf in prize money paid to male and female athletes has triggered the inevitable flood of outrage, dismay and potential solutions. The UK Minister for Sport has chipped in claiming the gap to be unacceptable and has dismissed the idea that the disparity is merely a result of the economic differences between male and female sport.

Whilst any reasonable person would agree that sexism, misogyny and gender bias should be seen as outdated, ridiculous concepts and consigned to the past, framing the difference in prize money as a symptom of these is ignoring some of the most fundamental differences between male and female sport.

The first and most obvious difference is the level of public and commercial interest in male sport as opposed to female sport. Whether we like it or not, prize money is determined by the level of interest, and the commercial funding available, in any given sport. This is why Barcelona’s superstar footballers are paid more than New Zealand’s superstar rugby players, there is a wider global audience, businesses pay more in sponsorship and consequently more money is available to organisers to distribute as prizes.

As a general rule – especially in the male sports where prize money is significantly higher – fan attendance at male sports fixtures is notably larger than for the women’s equivalent. This is perhaps best illustrated by the men’s and women’s Premier League. Average attendance for the men’s Premier League was roughly 35,900 whereas women’s games struggled to average 1000. It is not difficult to see why the men’s game attracts more funding from sponsors and consequently can afford greater levels of prize money for teams at the elite level of the game. We should not overlook that at lower levels of the men’s game, where interest is decidedly lower, teams receive fractions of the huge sums paid to Premier League clubs. The correlation between interest levels and prize money is an obvious one.

The second factor to consider is the relative quality of male and female sport. The basis of the argument for equal pay (of which the prize money debate can be considered a part) is that men and women should be paid the same money for doing the same job. Nobody with any sense would argue otherwise, there is no justification to pay more based on gender. However, there is every justification to pay more based on ability and results. We don’t expect Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to be paid the same as Celtic’s distinctly average Leigh Griffiths, they don’t perform to the same level and as a result there is a huge gap in their earnings.

The same should apply to men’s and women’s sport if we truly believe in equality. As soon as female athletes are achieving the same results as their male counterparts then the level of prize money and wages ought to be equivalent.

But as it stands there are relatively few elite female athletes who perform at the same level as the elite male players of their sport. For example, tennis legend Serena Williams admitted she doubted she could win a point against Andy Murray despite dominating women’s tennis for decades and currently sitting 7 places higher in the women’s ranking than Murray sits in the men’s.

There shouldn’t be any debate about whether male and female athletes deserve the same rewards for the achieving the same results, any other conclusion would be blatant sexism. However, in today’s world, male and female athletes don’t generate the same revenues or achieve the same results. Until they do, they won’t receive equal prize money and there is no good reason why they should.

 

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