THE BLOG

Equal Pay For Equal Play

06/10/2016 17:45
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last week, the man at the helm of the England football team was pictured allegedly offering advice, in exchange for cash, on how to bend the rules about player transfers. As soon as the undercover story broke, so too did a tidal wave of national angst about the level of greed and corruption making England a laughing stock among other footballing nations.

Oddly, at no point in this process did anyone stop to say: it's not. That actually this was a story about greed and corruption in the men's team. That England's Lionesses - lauded across the world, if not here - gave the best performance at last year's World Cup by a senior English team, male or female, since 1966 and only narrowly missed out on a place in the final.

In spite of almost 12 million television viewers following their journey to third place, England's female football team achieved their success to none of the hysteria that accompanies the men's progress through major competitions. Before the men's World Cup in 2006, the tabloid press reproduced images of Wayne Rooney's foot and encouraged a nation to pray for it to be healed in time for the opening game. There was no similar invoking of divine intervention when Steph Houghton - Wayne Rooney's counterpart as England captain - was withdrawn from England duty just four months before the World Cup kicked off.

It's easy to laugh at this.

But it's not really that funny.

Boys grow up surrounded by images of successful, well-paid sportsmen. Sport is presented to boys as an aspirational - and attainable, given the right combination of talent and hard work - career. In many ways it transcends cultural limits on social mobility, offering boys from lower socio-economic groups the promise of fame and fortune.

This is not the same for girls.

Sportsmen participating at the highest levels in football, cricket, rugby, golf and many other sports receive extraordinarily large salaries, which are boosted by appearance fees and sponsorship deals.

This is not the same in women's sport.

Women's sport receives just 0.4% of reported UK sponsorship deals. The FA Women's Super League's most valuable sponsorship deal - with Continental - is worth £450,000. To put that in perspective: Adidas sponsor Chelsea to the sum of £280million.

This matters. It matters because money brings in broadcasters, and broadcasters bring in fans (who in turn bring in more money, more sponsorship and more fans). Currently, UK sports coverage is 93% focused on men. Broadcasters pay billions of pounds to secure the rights to cover men's sports, arguing that there is less appetite for similar coverage of women while having never bothered to provide it to find out if it's true.

One of the Women's Equality Party's core objectives - equality in the media - includes a requirement for sports broadcasters to double their coverage of women's sport of all kinds within five years, and double it again in the five after that. Because it is only when women and girls see themselves participating at elite levels that they begin to believe they can emulate such success. In tennis, one of the few sports where women and men receive about the same media coverage, several teenage superstars have paid tribute to the older female players who inspired them as children to pick up a racket for the first time.

This week is Women in Sport week - seven days devoted to discussion of these issues and the exploration of change. To mark Women in Sport week, WE are calling for national governing bodies to address the huge pay differentials between male and female athletes competing at national level. Women who represent their country in football, cricket, rugby and many other sports are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. This is more than unsporting - it makes us a poorer nation because of the talent we fail to nurture and the achievements we fail to reach.

Equal pay for equal play should be at the heart of all our national sports. It is time we give women and girls the message that they can play too. And on a level playing field.

The Women's Equality Party is also backing West Ham Ladies' call for the FA to properly enforce its own equality policy, following their Chairman's formal complaint over discriminatory practices at West Ham United. For more information, click here

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