Pay equity for elite athletes
Fresh from signing what is reportedly a near $2 million deal to join English powerhouse Chelsea in the Women’s Super League, Sam Kerr was asked how it felt to be one of the best-paid stars of women’s soccer.
“It’s obviously pretty amazing,” she told Fox Sports. “But for me it’s just a start. I think all women’s footballers should be paid this amount. Hopefully in the future there’s many more Matildas that earn this amount of money.”
Kerr’s deal followed a number of firsts this month for women and pay equity in sport: Ash Barty took home the biggest pay cheque in tennis history ($6.4 million) at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, while Kerr’s Matildas signed on to a new collective bargaining agreement that guarantees them an equal share of player-generated revenue. This means the Socceroos and Matildas will split equally any money generated from broadcasting, sponsorship, merchandising and match-day sales.
The revenue-sharing model is a significant coup pulled off by the players’ union – Professional Footballers Australia – in negotiation with Football Federation Australia, setting a world-first precedent in soccer. Given a range of historical inequities, such as the Matildas’ value being vastly underestimated and undersold in commercial deals, the agreement amounts to an estimated 90 per cent increase on the Matildas’ guaranteed minimum payments over the course of the deal.
Kate Gill, deputy chief executive of the PFA, told The Saturday Paper the agreement ensured greater collaboration between the two national teams.
“This deal means they will share in each other’s success. The Matildas brand is going gangbusters, so this is an investment by the Socceroos. Sure, it might mean a hit for them in the short term, but they see the long-term future. The term ‘male champions for change’ gets thrown around a lot, but [by committing to this deal] the Socceroos truly are.”
However, while many have lauded the deal as “equal pay” it is quite simply not. When it comes to prizemoney, for example, the Matildas and Socceroos are guaranteed the same share (a 10-percentage-point increase to 40 per cent from the previous agreement, and 50 per cent if they make the knockout stages). At the most recent World Cup tournaments, though, the Socceroos took home $8 million for qualifying for the tournament and failing to win a game, whereas the Matildas took home $1 million for making the knockout stages. So while the two teams take home the same percentage of their own prizemoney, they end up with vastly different amounts. One way to solve this on a national level would have been to pool the players’ prizemoney, and split it equally as in the revenue-sharing model.
Gill, however, said this was not on the table in negotiations.
“[Inequitable prizemoney] is FIFA’s shame, not the FFA’s shame, not the players’ shame,” she said. “So we are continuing, as we have been, to lobby FIFA from the outside to increase the prizemoney on offer for women.”
This includes the PFA’s Our Goal is Now campaign, which draws attention to the fact that, at the last World Cup, the pay gap actually increased between men and women. So, while the women’s prizemoney was doubled from 2015, a 12 per cent increase in the men’s prizemoney saw the pay gap widen in monetary terms to $US370 million (from $US343 million).
Gill noted, moreover, that it is not just with FIFA where the shame over such a pay gap should lie. At the Asian Cup, overseen by the Asian Football Confederation, men compete for a prize pool of $US14.8 million, with nothing on offer for women.
In stark contrast to soccer, women’s tennis has long been at the forefront of the fight for prizemoney equality – a fact highlighted by the $US14 million prizemoney pool that was on offer at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, in early November. The equivalent men’s ATP Finals, just held in London, had a total prize pool of $US9 million.
For Courtney Nguyen, senior writer at WTA Insider, Barty’s record pay cheque owes everything to the rebel history of the WTA, founded in 1973 by Billie Jean King in protest at prizemoney inequality between the sexes.
“If you look back at the roots of the WTA and professional women’s tennis,” says Nguyen, “it all comes down to Billie Jean King, and she’s always been quite adamant that money matters. Flash forward to over 40 years later and women’s tennis doesn’t get included in the conversation about gender equality in sport as much because people think we’ve made it. They take for granted the success of women’s tennis.”
Nguyen acknowledged that while pay equality in tennis was not a year-round reality for women (particularly when it came to sponsorship), Shenzhen stood out as a potentially significant turning point. The men’s ATP Finals, for example, have since announced a shift to Turin, Italy, where the prizemoney on offer will top Shenzhen’s at $US14.5 million. And while she can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship, Nguyen says it is telling that the ATP has ensured the men’s tournament will in future pay more.
“For so long men in tennis have said women ride their coat-tails, that because of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, prizemoney has increased exponentially – and because of agreements about equal prizemoney, women have just been benefiting from that. Meanwhile, we now have a situation where the men’s tournament will [significantly increase] their prizemoney, seemingly in response to women making $US14 million. But there’s no conversation about how the guys should be bowing down to the Ash Bartys of the world.”
In a different sporting context, the lessons of women’s tennis and soccer weigh heavily on Prue Gilbert, chief executive of Grace Papers and, until recently, a member of the AFL Players’ Association’s AFLW advisory group. Gilbert’s expertise is in workplace gender equality, but she quit the committee during the last round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations over her perception that progress for AFLW had stalled. While a revised CBA was recently agreed to, Gilbert believes many AFLW players have not been given access to information that sets out their rights under sex discrimination legislation.
“Perhaps it’s time,” she says, “for the codes to align and establish a women’s football or sport association, creating a collective voice to advocate for women in sport.”
Gilbert noted that in contrast to other sports where genuine inroads were being made, conversations within the AFL lacked clarity when it came to redressing the historical marginalisation of women in sport.
“How to define equity and equality was interpreted differently – I take the view that it’s about more than letting women play. This is about closing the gap in pay, health and safety and equal access to facilities. Sport should reflect a sharing of the grass.
“There’s a flawed and sexist narrative that is telling female players that once you improve the quality of the game, the sponsors will come and we can pay you more. But in the meantime you’re not allowed to train more than nine hours a week, and we are only going to pay you a casual hourly rate. It just doesn’t fly. It’s a form of corporate gaslighting by the AFL.”
Gill argued that if the AFLW is going to remain competitive in terms of talent attraction and retention, it needs radical reform of player terms and conditions.
“I of course understand why players signed the CBA,” she says. “When you’re told that’s the best outcome we can get for you by the association and to essentially be grateful for it, that’s what happens.”
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 23, 2019 as "Set pays". Subscribe here.