There has been some interesting debate over the last week since cricket commentator (and former professional player) Peter McGlashan unveiled the massive discrepancy in financial spoils for the country’s top female domestic cricketers compared to their male counterparts.
In case you missed it, the women’s Twenty20 cricket final was played last Sunday, with the match screened live on Sky Sport. A number of earlier matches in the competition had also been televised.
Following the match, McGlashan highlighted via Twitter that the players were rewarded with only around $50 each (as a travelling allowance), and there was no prize money awarded to either the winners or runners-up.
Above: McGlashan’s first tweet (of many). $ amounts subsequently corrected
Meanwhile, the men who played in the Twenty20 match beforehand pocketed $575 each for their day’s work. The team that goes on to win the men’s final will apparently receive $60,000, with even the runner-up team still earning $20,000.
(Interestingly, there was no mention of the annual retainers that the men also receive – ranging from $53,000 to $27,000 per annum depending on where a player is ranked by their domestic association.)
McGlashan wasn’t afraid to shoot from the hip in voicing the disparity. It’s clearly something which has irked him for some time – and for particularly good reason, given his sister Sara is a former NZ international who, like a number of our better cricketers, is now playing in Australia and England as she battles to earn a living from the game she loves.
Peter is also a board member for Northern Districts, who were set to give their female players match fees equal to their male counterparts this season until the national body stepped in, worried about the precedent it would set (that’s a seriously crap reasoning in this day and age).
The debate follows similar lines to those that both football and rugby are increasingly having to deal with, as the popularity and profile of women’s sport grows. Last year, our national women’s rugby team was given an improved financial package including annual retainers.
And last May, New Zealand Football agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our Football Ferns that ensured equality with the All Whites in respect to pay parity, prize money, image usage rights, and travel arrangements. The agreement was hailed as a world-first for its unparalleled scope.
In regards to football, I’m rather envious of how cricket and rugby have managed to professionalise their men’s competitions at a domestic level – I’m sure many football players are pretty envious too. Talented male cricket and rugby players across the country can aspire to become a genuine professional player, paid to play the sport they love.
It often staggers me how football – far and away the world’s biggest sport, with professional leagues in dozens of countries – can’t provide proper pro or semi-pro leagues in NZ.
But back to the stir created by McGlashan’s comments. There seems to be plenty of people – predominantly, it would appear, males – who feel that women’s sport is lucky to get the level of exposure, coverage, and funding that it currently does.
When you filter out the commenters who are blatantly just trolling (hopefully?), then there seems to be a couple of common justifications that crop up as to why female sportspeople don’t deserve the time of day:
- There’s clearly not the public interest in women’s sport – proven by tiny crowds and small TV audiences compared to their male counterparts; &
- The skill level of the best females in many of these sports just can’t compare to the elite males.
Both of these justifications appear to ignore the numerous hurdles that have been placed in front of generations of females playing sport (and many other aspects of their lives too).
This is where I have to be honest and admit that until a few years ago I was pretty ignorant about this myself. I thought that females had it easy by being able to reach the international stage with only a fraction of the competition for spots their male counterparts faced.
Learning about the treatment of women footballers in pre-WW2 England was an eye-opener for me. Discovering that a Boxing Day women’s football match in Liverpool in 1920 drew a capacity crowd of over 50,000, with thousands more turned away, blew me away (Ella wrote about it here). Seemingly threatened by the growing popularity and crowds (which frequently exceeded those of the top men’s teams), the FA effectively banned women’s football in 1921. Women’s football practically didn’t exist for four decades.
Even after this ban was lifted, women’s football was left to stagnate until it was brought under the FA umbrella in the 1990s and given more attention over the ensuing years. It’s impossible to imagine just where the profile of women’s football would be at now if it hadn’t been virtually killed off for half a century – multiple generations of potential female footballers!
The other eye-opener was more personal, and was a bit of an eureka moment that only struck me quite recently. More than a decade ago, I was the most average of average third-grade cricketers in Dunedin. I vividly recall playing a club match against a team that featured three girls – one by the name of Suzie Bates. She was already on the cusp of playing international cricket, and here I was hitting her for six and dismissing her in the same match – what a great laugh! That was always a good story over a beer as my old teammates and I would see Suzie go on to captain her country and become one of the world’s premier all-rounders. She was no better than a third grader!
It’s only recently that it dawned on me what an arse I had been to treat her success with even a modicum of contempt. Sure, I might have got the better of her on that particular day – but she was just a teenager trying to push herself to reach her potential. With no proper club competition available to girls, she had no choice but to come up against boisterous males much older and bigger than her. She was probably terrified. But even at such a young age she knew that was the kind of challenge she had to face in order to achieve her lofty ambitions. She’s developed into an absolute superstar. I never made it out of third grade.
Even today, many of the cricketers thrust onto national television in the Women’s Super Smash face hurdles that the men don’t have to worry about. As genuine amateurs, the women often struggle to even get regular training sessions together given their other commitments. Most regions don’t have any form of proper women’s club competition. These players are effectively getting thrown into the lion’s den with televised matches – it’s no wonder so many of the players (many of them teenagers) seem so nervous in these matches.
You get the impression that New Zealand Cricket believe they’re doing women’s cricket a big favour by simply providing the TV exposure – and it has been great in boosting the profile of the sport – but in many respects it’s actually quite unfair on the players. All of a sudden they are having to deal with the negative consequences that come with being on national TV, and the pressure of making mistakes that instead of being quickly forgotten can be endlessly scrutinised. They’re not used to it. Sure, some of these players have serious aspirations to play international cricket, but some don’t. They just want to play cricket! What do they get in return? Barely enough to cover their lunch and dinner bill.
It’s disappointing when even the likes of White Ferns star Frankie Mackay – whose commentary stints have been a highlight of the summer – publicly says the following:
“We understand [that] we don’t bring the money in, we’re not the big sponsorship drivers, we’re not getting huge crowds in that are paying ticket price to get into the ground. We understand that we cost our associations money at the present stage.”
It’s disappointing because domestic men’s cricket (and rugby, and football…) certainly isn’t drawing in the crowds either. 25 years ago, 13,000 packed into Carisbrook for the (amateur) one day final. Last month, barely 700 fans attended the men’s one day competition final – despite stunning weather, cheap tickets, and extensive marketing. At most men’s domestic matches, the crowd can easily be tallied by a quick headcount. So that’s not a valid justification.
The reality for all of these sports is that the majority of the revenue is driven by the success of the international teams. And while at the moment virtually all of that revenue is generated by the international men’s teams, I don’t see any good reason why that means that revenue should only filter down to men’s domestic competitions.
Because rather than treating the women’s competitions as a liability, they need to be considered an investment in the future. Investing a fair share of that revenue into the promotion and development of women’s competitions will slowly start to undo the decades of under-investment – in fact, negligence – that’s been suffered across the sporting spectrum.
Football has perhaps escaped much of the recent media glare in terms of inequality between genders, and as mentioned NZF has made some fantastic strides with the new collective bargaining agreement, the bigger and better National Women’s League, and the swift response to the Andreas Heraf fiasco. Things are heading in the right direction – but there’s still a long way to go.
Because while it’s impossible to say exactly where women’s sport could be today without the inter-generational hurdles faced over the last century, now’s the time to invest in getting it right for future generations.
Categories: Other Football Topics