Pay Gap On The Podium
Throughout history there are plenty of examples of women achieving incredible things and not receiving the recognition they deserve. In 1430 Joan of Arc led the French Army to victory over the English and the following year was burned at the stake. In 1922, Scott Fitzgerald, author of ‘The Great Gatsby’ used entire pages of his wife’s diary to form his novel ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’. In 2016 Kanye West claimed he made Taylor Swift famous. And in 2019 we are still not awarding equal prize money to men and women across the board in sport.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic made the controversial comment that while women had “fought for what they deserve and got it” prize money should be “fairly distributed based on who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets.” While it could be argued the size of the fan base should affect sponsorship deals, from which athletes usually gain the majority of their earnings, it seems like a giant slap in the face to all of womankind that men and women are turning up to the same competition, putting in equal amounts of effort, training, and sacrifice only to receive a different sized cheque. It’s the pay gap on the podium, and it’s about time we started awarding all achievement in sport equally.
I am not a female athlete myself, far from it. I have the catching skills of a sea cucumber, and to call my most recent sporting venture surfing rather than face planting would be generous. But this lack of proficiency only heightens my appreciation for the women who put our country on the map. In 2015 at 17 years old, Lydia Ko became the youngest person ever to be ranked world #1 in golf, male or female. During that year she made less in prize money than fellow New Zealander Danny Lee. He was ranked 36th. What is it telling the young girls in sport that their first place isn’t worth even a fraction as much as those of men?
No wonder there are lower levels of participation in sports for women. It simply doesn’t seem like a viable career option. Often our sportswomen are unable to support themselves through their chosen sport alone, requiring a day job and having to split their time between professions. When sport becomes an actualised career option for women it creates a space for higher calibre athletes, able to dedicate themselves to the sport full time, with access to better training and facilities. Tennis players account for the entirety of the top 8 highest earning female athletes and it’s no coincidence that the US Open was one of the first tournaments to begin awarding equal prize money in 1973. During the 2018 finals, over a million more Americans tuned in to watch Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka than Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic. No wonder he is so salty.
How do we go about ensuring men and women start to receive more equal financial recognition for their sporting achievements? We care more. Last year a photo of two junior surfers being awarded first place in South Africa went viral, he holding a first prize cheque for 8000 rand, hers 4000. After much protest and global online outrage, the World Surf League now awards equal prize money into 2019 and beyond. It’s a great start, but definitely not time to take our foot off the gas. We should be encouraging all other sports to follow suit. When we award equal prize money we show that women are not second class athletes or the opening act, but in a league of their own. Novak Djokovic, imma let you finish, but Serena Williams is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Of all time.