The case for closing the pay gap in sport has never been clearer

The case for closing the pay gap in sport has never been clearer

The contrast is stark.

The front page of Monday’s Courier Mail declares it’s time for “Fair Pay for Play”, with a report outlining a historic commitment from major sporting bodies to promote pay equity for female athletes.

The CEOs of Australia’s leading sports organisations, including the NRL, AFL and FFA,  have joined forces to close the pay gap for women athletes under the Male Champions of Change Pathway to Pay Equality report.

It is believed to be the first time internationally that leaders of competing sporting codes and clubs have united on the issue.

“Sport plays a critical role in Australia’s economy, national identity, social cohesion and community well-being,” Founder and Convenor of MCC Sport Elizabeth Broderick said. “Yet equal pay – the most visible manifestation of a genuine commitment to equality – still remains out of reach for elite women athletes across many sports. We believe the inter-connected steps outlined in the report provide the pathway to gender equality and delivering equal pay in sport.”

Tennis legend, Billie Jean King has backed the proposed plan.

“The idea of activating the entire sports eco-system to hasten change is an approach that could be considered and replicated throughout the world,” she said.

According to the report eliminating pay inequality will require buy-in from the sporting codes, sponsors and the government.

“Pay equality means that women’s sport is valued equally to men’s, and therefore female athletes have access to the same remuneration opportunities. Achieving sustainable pay equality requires buy-in across the entire sports ecosystem from grass roots to elite level. To do this, we are calling for a significant shift in mindset, and a long-term focus on overall gender equality in all aspects of the sport. It starts with a genuine commitment from sporting organisations … … but it needs support from the entire sports ecosystem to become a reality.”

The report also recommends full disclosure of all salaries in sport, flexible working arrangements adopted by Australian businesses for employees trying to pursue a professional sporting career and making government funding conditional upon pay equality.

It also methodically unpicks some of the ‘arguments’ against pay equality for women in sport.

It is at this point where the contrast between male and female athletes is particularly relevant and stark.

Men’s sport has been far more lucrative than women’s sport but that’s because it’s been the beneficiary of the vast majority of investment – by the codes, by sponsors, by television networks – which has ensured its commercial success. And it’s been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is already clear that when women’s sport is invested in, the returns are there.

Now consider this. The weekend papers reported that the NRL has already lost in the vicinity of $10 million in sponsorship revenue this year on account of the “summer from hell” in which too many players have behaved appallingly.

The scandal-plagued code is currently divided on whether a player facing extremely serious criminal charges for sexual assault should be allowed to play.

The Gold Coast Titans chairman Dennis Watt told Fairfax Media no tolerance is the only palatable response.

“We are being perceived as a game that is tolerant of abuse of women,” he said. “As a club, we support the standing down of players if they are facing serious criminal charges, until the resolution of those charges. That’s not to pre-judge their guilt or innocence, we just think that in most professions you cannot stay in your role while you are being investigated or prosecuted for serious criminal offences.”

He admits it might be ‘a legal minefield’ but wants it embedded in player contracts. “If you want to take part in this game, that’s simply a price that you pay.”

South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly estimated the financial damage of the code’s plethora of off-field indiscretions to be more than $10 million while Dennis Watt estimates it’s closer to $6.5million.

The Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie didn’t specify a number but described the financial loss as ‘significant’.

One sport haemorrhaging millions of dollars directly as a result of its players engaging in conduct ranging from criminal to entirely lewd, makes the business case for investing in women’s sport as compelling as the moral imperative.

The time for pay equality in sport has never been clearer.

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