About time we spoke about equal pay for elite female athletes

This article was first written and published for the Roar

While there are times when our major sporting codes are in competition with each other for fans, sponsorship dollars and media attention, for the most part, I believe that our codes have an opportunity to work together, learn from each other and share ideas to benefit the sports-loving Australian public.

When our codes come together on an issue, it is exceptionally powerful. There was a good example of that this week when 17 of Australia’s leading sporting organisations came together to release a plan about working towards equal pay for elite female athletes.

The initiative is called the ‘Pathway to Pay Equality’ and was developed by the Male Champions of Change in Sport group, a group of men who use their individual and collective leadership to elevate gender equality as an issue of national and international social and economic importance.

The group was established by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and features some heavy hitters in the Australian community.

According to the report released earlier this week, there are three key steps in defining pay equity:

1. Differentiating between payments within a sport’s control and those outside it

2. Being clear on the types of work that athletes perform (training, media et cetera)

3. Working out how much athletes should be compensated for the various types of work identified above.

Some of the sporting leaders taking part on behalf of their organisations were CEO of the NRL Todd Greenberg, FFA chief executive David Gallop, CEO of Rugby Australia Raelene Castle, CEO of Sport Australia Kate Palmer and CEO of Cricket Australia Kevin Roberts.

A notable omission is of course, CEO of the AFL, Gillon McLachlan, but the AFL was not left underrepresented with the CEOs of Collingwood, Geelong, St Kilda, Richmond and Carlton all in attendance.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg speaks during the 2018 NRL Finals Series Launch at Allianz Stadium on September 3, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

(Photo: MAtt King/Getty Images)

For each of these leaders, they have committed to reporting annually on their performance over the next five years so that they are held accountable and that progress is pushed for.

And to those who think it can’t be done, you only need to look at the positive examples that other sports have set such as tennis and surfing. Additionally, we saw the Australian Women’s Cricket Team included in the latest CBA for the first time in 2017 – this agreement included (and introduced) an equal rate of pay for male and female elite cricketers.

Pay equality is not something that will be achieved overnight, but by each sport committing to holding themselves accountable, I am sure that we will see progress begin to be made in this field.

One criticism that is frequently levelled at women’s sport is that the quality is not as good as the men’s.

For me, this misses the point on several fronts.

First of all, men’s sport and women’s sport are fundamentally different – men and women play the same sports differently and no matter how far women’s sport progresses, it will always look different from the men’s version of the game. In some cases, this makes women’s sport more entertaining.

For example, in the T20 format of the game, while men can rely on power to hit boundaries, in most cases women need to be more strategic in their shots to find the boundary. In rugby league, the women’s game is more free-flowing and less structured than the men’s, which can also be refreshing for plenty of fans.

But additionally, how can we possibly expect men’s sport and women’s sport to look the same, when for our high-profile men’s leagues, the males are professional which means it is their job to train, compete and play for their club full time?

Most women do not have this luxury, instead juggling the sport that they love with family duties, study or work to supplement their incomes.

This investment into equal pay for elite female athletes is a smart one and will ensure the quality of women’s sport continues to go from strength to strength.

Over the last five years, the improvement in skill level in the WBBL has been obvious. Also, it’s no surprise that New South Wales have been so dominant in the competition given the professionalisation of women’s cricket in the state which was largely pushed by former Cricket NSW CEO Andrew Jones.

This professionalisation saw the NSW Lendlease Breakers become Australia’s first female professional domestic sporting team and has also contributed to their ongoing success (this team has appeared in the WNCL grand final 23 times consecutive times and won their 20th title a few weeks ago).

The Australian public continues to show interest in women’s sport. The WBBL final was stand alone for the first time this year and sold out. Fans marvelled at the quality of the NRLW last year. The WNBL is back on television and we have established competitions in the AFLW and Super W.

This investment in equality of pay is the next piece of the puzzle and is essential if we want to continue to see women’s sport grow and prosper.