Last week, I attended the “Transforming Sport: Women’s Sport Conference” hosted by Women in Sport. It was a great event: well hosted, well attended, lots of opportunities for sharing ideas and concerns. However, one moment sticks out for me. During the BBC 5 Live Game Changers broadcast, the debate shifted to the discussion of sponsorship disparity between male and female athletes (only 0.4% of UK sports sponsorship invested in women’s sport).
A young girl from the audience bravely raised her hand to say that female athletes should be paid the same as male athletes because they are doing the same job. The room erupted into cheers and applause. But I found myself in the awkward position of being unable to join the applause.
I am a professional female athlete who is passionate about the involvement of women of all ages in sport. But I don’t agree.
I feel like the wrong metaphor is being used when it comes to discussing athlete salaries. There is no doubt in my mind that two accountants working the same number of hours producing the same quality of work should be paid the same salary regardless of age, race, or gender. But I don’t think of athletes as performing jobs. When it comes to commercial considerations, we are entrepreneurs trying to sell a product, which is ourselves. The reality for all entrepreneurs is that product price is dictated by market interest. Millions of entrepreneurs around the world, from craftsmen, to musicians, to hoteliers can attest to the fact that market interest and price don’t always correlate with fairness, effort, or quality of work.
Women often play a central role in dictating where money is spent, and a company would be crazy not to try and appeal to the female market. I hate that Under Armour America recently hired Gisele to front their women’s sport line, and not an elite female athlete. Something needs to change. We can vilify the media and we can vilify corporate business, but I think what needs to change is me. I need to show that I value sport (if indeed I do) with my actions. We need girls flocking to PE classes, analysing the offensive strategy of last night’s netball game, and saving up to buy carbon fibre race tires. These are the sorts of “market” changes that I am interested in and want to help bring about.