Another Dope In Sports - The Scandal Of Unequal Pay

19/09/2016 16:41
Stuart C. Wilson via Getty Images

Equality in sports ought to be a given, so the fact that professional women participants still generally earn less than their male equivalents is a scandal.

The Gender Balance in Global Sport report just published has found what it calls a 'vast' wage gap still existing, two years after first highlighting the problem.

Claire Braund, executive director of Women on Boards, which commissioned the review, suggests that the explanation for the bias is a perception that "women's sport is not as physical and not as good to watch."

More likely it shows that the sponsors of sports, whose support makes them viable and sometimes even rich in the first place, are getting away with enabling a talent 'apartheid' on gender grounds for their own immediate commercial ends.

But equal pay is equal pay. And it should be applied to professional sport just as it is to other forms of employment. The fact that it isn't is helping to perpetuate myths about women's skills.

Sport is a very public, observed showcase for human talent, drive and excellence: all qualities that are widely valued by society. By allowing women to be paid less for what they do as work we are sending out a subtle, broader message that men are just 'better' and this cascades down into lower pay generally, fewer opportunities and just plain sexism.

The irritation is that nobody is calling out the corporations that pour money into selective sports. There is clearly a connection between money in and talent out. Just look at the success of Team GB this year, The trouble is that it only becomes truly visible once every four years: Where sponsorship is evenly distributed at the Olympics a watching audience is prepared to be enthralled by brilliance from any gender.

But at all other times something more insidious happens. The big money that can make a sport flourish is channelled in conservative ways to meet short-term financial goals. There is no reward, it seems, for taking a risk, so why bother?

A cycle is then maintained where money breeds excellence, which in turn breeds interest and more money. Just look at Premier League football and the huge money pumped into that.

Yet there is no reason why women's football should not be as popular as the male game, It is just cultural conditioning. But that conditioning is currently reinforced by commercial sponsorship that supports rather than challenges it.

We need to see determined pressure put on sponsors to use their money to change the bias, not merely lean into it still further.

Sponsorship is obviously self-interested, but those who provide it can create interest, too, instead of being mere servants to it. Their involvement can offer approval and validation to a sport, not least because a trusted brand is a powerful force in society. More of them should see sponsoring sport not just as a narrow marketing opportunity, but a social one.

With prejudices being challenged all the time in society, and equal pay now a given in most, why should there be unequal sponsorship of sport? In many sports, sponsorship is effectively part of the pay for those doing the physical bit. Those who provide it should be held to the same standards as if IT was just another workplace. Equal pay for equal play would be a great legacy from the Rio Olympics.