Why Do We Still Have A Problem With Women In Sport?

Why Do We Still Have A Problem With Women In Sport?

While we prepare for a weekend of footy fever as the Grand Final approaches, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the women who have fought hard to bring the AFLW to the nation’s attention and reflect on the challenges facing the league and female athletes more widely.

The AFLW (Australian Football League Women’s) smashed attendance records earlier in the year with 41,795 people streaming through the gates to watch Fremantle take on Collingwood at Perth’s Optus Stadium in February — making it the largest ever crowd attracted to a women’s domestic sporting event in Australian history since 1929. And people paid to see the game.

Despite this awesome progress, the league and its players are still fighting hard to make their mark as equals in the sporting world. At the end of 2017, AFLW players were granted a pay increase with tier 1 players now paid $20,000 (up from $17,000), tier 2 players paid $14,500 (up from $12,000) and rookie list players paid $10,500 (up from $8,500). While this is a step in the right direction, it is still miles behind the average male AFL player’s salary of $371,000.

There’s also been some confusion around the proposed structure of the 2019 AFLW game roster. It’s just been announced that the league will overhaul it’s fixture with a seven round system split into two conferences of five teams, plus an extended two week finals series. With 10 teams in total this means there’s no opportunity for every team to play each other at least once. And fans are not happy about it.

The AFL is a tricky system to operate in for both cis women (people whose gender identity matches the female sex they were assigned at birth) and trans women (a person whose female gender identity does not correspond with their sex at birth) more broadly. After a year-long back and forth, trans woman and former Olympic handball player Hannah Mouncey has withdrawn her nomination for this year’s AFLW draft, writing on Twitter this month that “the AFL has treated me like s**t” and that “the toll of doing this on my own has ended up being far too great”.

Mouncey had hoped to be the first transgender woman to play in the AFLW, and has spoken out about the discrimination she’s faced from the league in her attempts to get cleared to play. Despite meeting all the physical requirements the AFLW sets out for trans players — and sharing the medical results publicly on Twitter — she’s still faced discrimination and criticism from the sport’s organisers, “with every effort made to wear me down to a point where I couldn’t continue”.

It’s not just the AFL that has demonstrated confusing antics when it comes to female athletes. You may have seen this image making its way around the internet not too long ago, which shows a female surfer receiving half the amount of winning prize money of a male competitor in the same surf competition.

Caught in the middle of a social media storm, the World Surf League has since announced they will award equal prize money for men and women across elite tour events in 2019 and beyond, which is a massive win and a shining example of what can be done to heal the divide between male and female athletes across all sporting sectors.

The salaries of female soccer players are also pretty puzzling. Olympic gold medalist Hope Solo filed an ongoing lawsuit just over 2 years ago against the U.S. Soccer Federation over pay discrimination, which brought some concerning statistics to the public’s attention. Despite bringing in more money than the men’s team, the U.S. women’s national soccer team is still paid nearly four times less. The alarming scale of the problem can be seen in a recent report from Sporting Intelligence which found that male Brazilian forward Neymar earns $43.8 million, which is more than the top seven women’s soccer leagues combined (demonstrated in the infographic below).

Phew. As you can see, it’s a messy playing field when it comes to gender and sports. We’ve had plenty of wins when it comes to equality of late but there are still many rocky mountains to climb. One of the best things we can all do to promote equality is to simply get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations about what isn’t working. Listening to opinions and stories that differ from our own, and simply showing up in support of women’s teams can make a world of difference. Whether you pay for a ticket or switch on the TV to watch a match, you are backing leagues that need support. Take one for the team (literally) and get behind the people changing the game for good.