As you may know, I previously wrote an article exploring womenʼs roles in top level sport which pulled no punches. It went down a treat in some camps and not so well in others. I have been referred to as sexist and anti-feminist ever since. This may or may not be entirely true but in my defense I will say this. . . . “some of my best mates are troublemaking, spiteful whinge-bags”
Some might say that tackling such a touchy subject again is a risky move but I maintain that ignoring the issue and keeping my opinion to myself would, ironically, be disrespectful to women. So here we go.
Sexism in the workplace has reared itʼs ugly head in the media again. Five senior players from the US National Female Soccer team have lodged an official complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about equal pay for equal work compared to their male counterparts.
Hope Solo, the Goalkeeper of the female national team, had this to say:
“The numbers speak for themselves. We are the best in the world. We have three World Cups, four Olympic Championships and the menʼs national team get paid more to just show up than we do to win major championships.”
There is a lot of truth in this statement. The womenʼs national team dominate womenʼs soccer and their recent success on the field has been phenomenal. Compare this to the menʼs national team who have never gone past the quarter-final stage of a World Cup since their third place finish in the inaugural tournament in 1930.
Regarding Hopeʼs reference to the money issue, it breaks down like this:
The womenʼs team are paid a base salary of $72,000 to appear in twenty exhibition games a year with victory bonuses taking that up to a maximum of $99,000. Compare this to the men who receive a minimum of $5,000 per game regardless of the outcome for the same amount of games and can earn bonuses of up to $17,625 per player, per victory, depending on the ranking of the opponent.
Under the current agreement with the US Soccer Federation, the womenʼs team can earn a bonus of $75,000 per player for winning the World Cup while the menʼs team can earn just under $400,000 for achieving the same feat in their equivalent tournament.
Miss Soloʼs statement, in isolation, reads like the most horrendous injustice in professional sports pay scales you could imagine and the numbers cited seem to validate her complaint. Do they though?
Letʼs go through it again. Some of you may be re-reading the previous paragraphs trying to make sense of the numbers. Maybe youʼre doing a bit of mental arithmetic to figure out what the actual figures are to get a definitive picture of the pay discrepancies between the genders.
If it sounds like Iʼm comparing apples and oranges and trying to muddy the situation by avoiding direct comparisons then I would agree with you. I lifted these figures and relayed them just as they appear in the playerʼs quotations to make that very point.
If you read between the lines you will notice that the women receive a guaranteed basic salary and less bonuses whereas the men are compensated in a ʻpay as you playʼ payment scheme with the opportunity to earn bonuses dependent on performance.
Why is this you may ask? Well, with two previous efforts to set up a womenʼs professional soccer league having failed, the athletes requested a guaranteed basic salary instead of a bonus-centric system to ensure economic stability for professional female soccer.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Itʼs worth hearing again.
The U.S Soccer Federation agreed to change their compensation system at the request of the female athletes to ensure the economic security of the players and to maintain the professional status of the sport.
Now, letʼs consider the complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission again with this in mind.
Essentially, five senior players have registered an official complaint, claiming discrimination, based on terms that they themselves requested, they themselves negotiated and they themselves approved of, for their own benefit. How do you even respond to that? (gender-neutral-face-palm)
The U.S Soccer Federation did respond by saying that their support of womenʼs soccer is ʻunwaveringʼ and they are extremely disappointed that the players have made this complaint.
A statement read: “For thirty years we have been a world leader in promoting the womenʼs game and are proud of the long standing commitment we have made to building womenʼs soccer in the U.S and furthering opportunities in soccer for young women and girls around the world.”
Iʼm paraphrasing here but what I heard when I read this was: “Ah here, we have managed to create a professional womenʼs soccer league in a country that doesnʼt even give a shit about menʼs soccer. Cut us some slack ladies.” Credit where itʼs due, ticaboo fellas.
A Federation spokes-man, Neil Buthe, referred to the figures in the playerʼs complaint as ʻinaccurate, misleading or bothʼ. He recognized the teamʼs recent successes on the field but argued that the women and their lawyer have cherry-picked an extraordinarily successful year from which to draw very broad conclusions.
Going back to Hope Soloʼs original statement where she maintained that ʻthe numbers speak for themselvesʼ, she said ʻnumbersʼ but what she followed up with were actually ʻachievementsʼ, e.g World Cup wins and Olympic medals, she conveniently left out the numbers that actually matter.
She circumvented the numbers that actually make a difference to an athleteʼs or teamʼs compensation. I am talking about revenue.
Figures from the U.S Soccer Federation show that the revenue and attendance generated by the menʼs team is double that of the womenʼs and that the menʼs television ratings were ʻa multipleʼ of the womenʼs ratings.
This, in my opinion, is the bottom line. Professional sports is a business. Itʼs an entertainment business. Fundamentally, it is dependent on how many people will pay to interact with it, which in turn will generate ticket sales, sponsorship, advertising revenue and television broadcast income.
In professional sports, an athleteʼs value is not based on their gender but on how much revenue they can generate in a competitive sports environment.
Historically, it is men who are more interested in playing and watching sport than women. Men are more inclined to watch menʼs sports, olympic beach volleyball excluded, and it is their dollars that primarily feed the professional sports economy and dictate where the money goes.
Equal pay for equal work does not exist in the entertainment industry and certainly not in professional sports. Even within a single professional teamʼs pay structure, regardless of gender, there will be huge discrepancies in what each player is paid.
For example Lionel Messi gets paid more than Javier Mascherano at Barcelona because he generates more revenue for the club. Mascherano trains the same number of hours and plays the same matches as Messi. Should he submit an ʻequal pay for equal workʼ complaint too?
There are industries that work the opposite way and favour women if you want to look at the role gender plays in those economies .
Take the Beauty and Fashion industries for example. Historically, women are more interested in beauty products and fashion than men are. It is women who buy the products, the clothes and the magazines so their dollars contribute to the beauty and fashion economy and dictate where that money goes.
Women want to see clothes and make-up on other women so female models are paid more than the males. Thereʼs no equal pay for equal work in that scenario and Iʼve never heard a woman complain about that.
Another obvious one is the Porn industry. Men consume more porn than women. Men want to see women in porn so women get paid more than the men.
I tried to research the facts and figures of the porn industry but I got side tracked and fell asleep soon afterwards so youʼll just have to forgive me on this one.
So getting back to the main point, what exactly do the U.S Womenʼs National team actually want?
They are asking for equal pay in line with their male counterparts without generating equal revenue. They are essentially asking to be subsidized by the income of the male team and to me that is anti-feminist and makes a mockery of what women in sports are actually striving for, which is equal opportunity.
(I can literally feel the women reading this getting angry here so any of you who disagree with my ʻequal opportunityʼ observation, I invite you to go back and see who the official complaint was registered to.)
I realize that I have sided with ʻthe manʼ here in this situation but the representatives of the U.S Womenʼs National team left me with little or no choice in the matter. I actually agree with the ʻequal pay for equal workʼ concept when everything is in fact ʻequalʼ.
However, I cannot support any argument form any group or person with such blatant disregard for the contributing factors that donʼt support their cause.
I maintain that no amount of complaining is going to make money ʻmagicallyʼ appear in the female soccer teamʼs coffers.
What will make a difference is if all the women who are happy to join the feminist ʻequal pay for equal workʼ argument were also happy to support their local and national teams.
They could help bridge the wage gap by going to a game, buying their teamʼs jersey and actively contributing to the female sports economy. Just a thought.
It is unlikely that the U.S female soccer teamʼs current complaint will stand up to scrutiny on this occasion but I can assure you, in the future, if market conditions reach parity and the only actual difference between the teams is gender, then I will whole-heartedly support ʻequal pay for equal workʼ and I will stand behind those women one hundred percent . . .and not just to look at their arses.