Women’s Wednesday: Lisa Ingarfield – equality in sport

Story by Lisa Ingarfield

Equality Delayed is Inequality Accepted

During a drive to Boulder recently to meet up with fellow cyclists for a ride, I learned that the USA national women’s ice hockey team is in negotiations with their national organization, USA Hockey, to ensure their equitable treatment in pay, resources, and coverage. It is 2017, and still, industries and organizations struggle with treating and paying women and men equally. One of the most persistent issues facing women today continues to be pay equity, spanning women’s hourly wages to prize winnings to professional sports teams. Women continue to earn less than men for the same work, with women of color receiving even less than white women. According to a study recently released by the American Association of University Women, if pay rates continue to progress at the pace they are today, then women will not reach parity with men until 2152. 1 Let’s just pause and digest that. Twenty-One- Fifty-Two. One hundred and eighteen years from now.

The women’s hockey team’s requests to USA Hockey go beyond pay equity: “The women say there are pervasive, possibly illegal inequities in how USA Hockey treats male and female players — in terms of equipment, meals, hotel accommodations, staffing, marketing and PR, among other things.” 2 The women’s team (two time World Championship winners and Olympic gold medalists by the way) refused to defend their title and play in the upcoming World Championships unless USA Hockey compensated them equitably. In response to the boycott, instead of addressing what appear to be fairly blatant inequalities between the men’s and women’s teams, USA Hockey decided to ask alternate women hockey players to stand in when the World Championships start this Friday, March 31st in Michigan. 3 Satisfyingly, many of their requests were rebuffed, as the alternates stood in solidarity with the women of Team USA. 4 Fourteen senators, 5 the National Hockey League Players Association, and other major sports players’ unions have also come out in support of the women’s requests for equity, urging USA Hockey to do the right thing. 6 7 After months of negotiation, and 14 days since the team announced their boycott, an agreement was finally reached yesterday.

The experience of the USA women’s hockey team is not unique. We have seen equality requests emerge in other sports such as tennis and soccer. Serena Williams earned over $200,000 less than Roger Federer when they both won a major U.S. tennis tournament, the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, a few weeks before the U.S. Open in 2015. 8 And while U.S. Tennis is doing marginally better than other sports in terms of addressing gender equity (all Grand Slam tournaments have equal prize purses), comments from players such as Novak Djokovic, that men deserve to be paid more, 9 represent a pervasive, yet unspoken, perspective across many professionals sports.

After the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup in 2015, it was widely publicized that the pay they received was far less than what the men received for not reaching the World Cup final. Justifications abound as to why this was, many resting on how “complicated10 these things are. Couple that with their pay overall, and the picture of gender inequality in sport comes into focus. According to ESPN: “Much of the disparity in wages between the men’s and women’s [soccer] teams stem from the different ways the players are paid. The women earn salaries while the men are paid based on national team appearances, results and other factors.” 11 These “other factors” include the heightened level of air time and sponsorships that men’s soccer receives over women’s; a systemic problem that justifies (for some) the lesser position of women’s sports to men’s across many disciplines.

Several women’s U.S. soccer team members filed a suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2016, alleging disparate pay and treatment after losing a case in federal court. The EEOC complaint is still pending. The women’s team is paid about one fourth of what the men’s team receives despite their tremendous success. 12 They have four Olympic gold medals under their belt and three World Cup titles, far more than the men’s team. In fact, the 2015 World Cup final between Japan and the USA was the most watched soccer game ever in U.S. history across both the women and men’s teams. 13 Any argument that women’s soccer is not as “exciting” as men’s is ludicrous given their success. Such an argument rests on false, and sexist, assumptions that women’s sport carte blanche is not as good, entertaining, or captivating as men’s. Frankly, viewer excitement bears no relevancy to the pay the players receive because it does not correlate to the level of work women invest in training and competing at that level. Equal pay for equal work, not equal pay for equal viewership.

Equitable treatment, recognition, and pay has lagged behind for many more women’s teams and athletes. And sadly, the trajectory has been similar for triathlon. Ironman only provides 35 slots to women elites at Kona, versus 50 for men. The hashtag #50womentokona has become a social media rallying cry. Tri Equal, a non-profit organization committed to advocating for equitable treatment and representation of women, has attempted to work with Ironman to rectify this discrepancy. Sadly, efforts have been unsuccessful. This past week, the new Super League Triathlon competition series was launched absent a women’s race. Chris McCormack, an Ironman World Champion who spear-headed the TV friendly initiative shared as justification for the lack of a women’s race that many of the pro-women were off this year because of pregnancy, and that they just had to get going with the event instead of simply talking about it. 14 An unnamed woman Olympian and Ironman podium finisher stated: “there’s enough depth in women’s triathlon that we could have some racing that’s equally compelling to the men’s…I know that I’m not alone in my disappointment in the lack of transparency.” 15

Liz Blatchford, a two time Ironman World Championship podium finisher, shared her frustration on Instagram: “While we have been told women’s racing is coming, I can’t really accept that their SHOWCASE event should have gone ahead without women…I strongly feel that having a women’s event should never have been a negotiable factor.” She rounds out her critique with: “Equality delayed is inequality accepted.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

We have much work to do. Onwards.

 

Lisa Ingarfield, PhD is a runner, triathlete, and RRCA certified coach. She owns Tri to Defi Coaching and Consulting and provides organizational communication evaluation and consulting services. She is a freelance writer specializing in issues affecting women, particularly in sport and is a member of Vixxen Racing’s 2017 women’s triathlon team.

 

 

  1. http://www.aauw.org/resource/the-simple- truth-about- the-gender- pay-gap/
  2. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/15/520301416/u- s-womens- hockey-team- boycotting-world- championships-to- protest-low- pay
  3. http://www.local10.com/sports/usa-hockey- gave-more- benefits-to- mens-team- than-womens
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/25/usa-hockey- world-championships- dispute-boycott
  5. http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/325954-senators- call-for- pay-equity- for-us- womens-hockey- team
  6. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2017/03/26/american-nhl- players-could- skip-iihl- world- championships/99672342/
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/sports/hockey/usahockey-womens- team-boycott.html
  8. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/sports/tennis/equal-pay- gender-gap- grand-slam- majors-wta- atp.html
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/mar/22/serena-williams- andy-murray- novak-djokovic- equal-pay- row- indian-wells
  10. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/sports/soccer/usmnt-uswnt- soccer-equal- pay.html
  11. http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/18082886/talks-ongoing- us-soccer- women-team
  12. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/sports/soccer/usmnt-uswnt- soccer-equal- pay.html
  13. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/06/420514899/what- people-are- saying-about- the-u- s- women-s- world-cup- win
  14. http://www.triathlete.com/2017/03/lifestyle/super-league- triathlon-awesome- theory-will- work_299827
  15. Ibid.

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