Whether you like or dislike certain sports, or are good or bad at others (and there is probably a correlation between the two), there’s no denying that sport plays a huge part in modern society. It offers role models to look up to and emulate, provides opportunities for people to remain active, and is seen as a major social hub.
But for all of the positives surrounding sport and what it can do for a person, there are some overwhelming negatives associated too. One which seems to crop up across various sports is match fixing – deliberately effecting the outcome of a match. Drug scandals rear their ugly heads on an all too often basis, with Sharapova the latest high-profile athlete to be caught out. But standing alongside these is a very relevant topic:
Gender equality in sport
I’m an avid golfer and have worked in the industry since graduating from university, but recent events have cast an ugly shadow over the struggling game. For those of you who weren’t aware, Muirfield – an all-male club – recently voted against allowing women to join as members. A two-thirds majority was needed and they came up just short at 61%. Shameful. It’s important to stress that Muirfield isn’t a traditional golf club. It seems to me, at least from the outside, that this is more of an affluent private members drinking club which happens to have a wonderful golf course attached. I don’t think the members who voted against allowing women to join did so because they didn’t want them on their course. I think they did so because these arrogant, chauvinistic and lonely men didn’t want women to join their private social club. And it is for this reason that the Muirfield committee didn’t allow overseas members to vote – they knew that things would have turned out differently.
Not that this changes things one bit
This story made national headlines which isn’t surprising really, but it creates problems for the sport. Many naive people who don’t play golf will read about Muirfield’s gender discrimination and let this shape their views. Whereas in reality, golf is one of the best sports for gender equality at amateur level – coaching available for both, gender-specific equipment, same courses used, similar dress codes, etc. But this will go unnoticed due to Muirfield’s incompetence do to the right thing.
But what about other sports?
It’s at this point that I’d like to stress my position on gender equality in sport. I believe that if a person (regardless of gender) has the ability to succeed in a sport then he or she should be given that chance. However, we can’t start putting women in men’s events, and vice versa, if their ability isn’t at the same level as their competitors. It will only be unfair on the person who is thrown in the deep end, as they’re not going to flourish if they don’t have the ability to do so.
It’s happened before – Michelle Wie was one of the most promising and gifted female golfers in the noughties, turning professional at the age of 16. But before she had even spent time on the ladies scene, let alone conquer it, she started to compete in men’s events through sponsor invites. Unfortunately this was the start of a negative spiral for the talented American, as after numerous missed cuts (not proceeding past the half-way stage) on the men’s tour, her golf fell apart and she was struggling to fulfil her promise.
But like I said before, if the ability levels are matched then I am all-for women and men competing together. This already happens in some sports, such as horse racing, equestrian and snooker. I applaud the way cricket, tennis and athletics go about it. Although men and women don’t compete together (ignoring mixed events in this instance), they share the same stage in World Cups, Grand Slams and the Olympics. This mean’s that coverage of these sports is enhanced, whilst the athletes get to perform on the biggest arenas in front of mass spectators.
This is where it starts to get tricky….
The most controversial topic is to do with prize money. Men are financially rewarded more than women in 30% of sports, there’s no arguing that – it’s a fact. However, it’s important to understand where prize money comes from. Many people – and unfortunately it is those who are less educated on this specific matter – seem to think there is a general pool of prize money for each sport which is unfairly split between men and women. This isn’t the case. Prize money mainly comes from sponsors and TV. Now, sponsors aren’t going to offer the same prize fund for both if the global reach isn’t there and you’d be deluded to think they would. Likewise with TV money, the TV coverage won’t be the same if the demand from the watching public isn’t there. There’s no getting around these matters.
The average home attendance in 2015 for the Women’s Super League (1,026) vs the men’s Premier League (36,226).
25.4 million TV viewers watch the 2015 Women’s World Cup final whereas around 1 billion tuned in for the Men’s World Cup final in 2014.
These sort of figures demonstrate why men get paid so much more than women in football, the global reach of men’s football is astounding. It’s not surprising the victorious men’s team took home around $35 million whereas the women’s equivalent received $2 million. Having said this, I do think there is far too much money in men’s football – is there really any need to be paid £300,000+ a week no matter how good you are?
Now as I hope is clear from what I’ve written so far, I am very keen for gender equality in sport – as long as it’s fair on everyone. Which brings me on to tennis. Tennis is at the other end of the spectrum to football, as women and men have been paid the same amount in the four Grand Slam tournaments since 2007. There’s been so much debate regarding this subject, with many claiming that men play best-of-five sets whereas women play best-of-three. Yes that’s true and I accept that point – I used to think the same until I sat down and thought about it. I pose this question to you:
Since when have athletes been paid by the hour?
You can’t expect Usain Bolt (100m runner in 9-10 seconds) to be paid 1/1366ths of what the 2016 London Marathon winner (123 minutes) received due to the disparity in performance times. Yes this is extreme, but why does it matter if women tennis players get paid the same for playing a little-while less than their male counterparts – not forgetting sometimes their matches outlast men’s?
Going back to my previous point, the global reach and TV coverage of women’s tennis is huge and so I do think it’s fair that they get paid the same. On the other side of the coin, women’s football is nowhere near the stature or entertainment of the men’s game, meaning the TV coverage isn’t there and so I don’t think they should get paid the same.
Gender equality in sport is something that we should all strive for. But it’s important to look at each sport on a local level rather than trying to globalise all sports into one. If we reduce the disparity within each sport (and this doesn’t mean paying both sexes the same), then we will paint a much brighter picture.