Opinion

Equal pay? First, earn it

by
May 31, 2016

Equal pay for equal work: Novak Djokovic believes the money men generate for tennis should be distributed accordingly.

Vote grab: Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged $21 million for the ABC to provide greater coverage of women's sport if he becomes Prime Minister at the upcoming federal election.

Bitter rivals: Tonya Harding (left) and Nancy Kerrigan created television history at the 1994 Winter Olympics for all the wrong reasons.

There is a reason sport is one of the few pies which politicians avoid sticking their grubby little fingers in.

But in the cauldron that is a federal election campaign, Bill Shorten simply couldn’t resist meddling in affairs he knows little about.

After meeting with Canberra United’s girls soccer academy, Billy-boy announced his government would provide $21million in funding for an extra 500 hours of live women’s sports coverage on ABC television and online.

‘‘We are doing this because we believe that our women athletes deserve comparable coverage to our male athletes,’’ Shorten said.

‘‘It is important that our women athletes get equal treatment to our men.’’

All very good in principle, Bill, but I find it rather comical you announced this on the back of a meeting with a girls’ soccer team just days after the Matildas were thrashed 7-0 by the Newcastle Jets’ under-15 boys’ side.

The Matildas are considered a favourite to medal at the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and are the same side that went on strike last year over player payments.

Gary van Egmond is assistant Matildas coach and academy director of the Newcastle Jets, and tried to offer an explanation for the baffling result.

‘‘To be honest we didn’t expect that, but it’s all relative,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘It’s no different from (the sort of result you’d expect) from a female tennis player or a female swimmer against a 15 or 16-year-old boy who’s maturing and starting to develop physically.

‘‘They have to be looked upon as two separate entities.’’

Hang on just one second Gary, let’s let our imaginations run wild for a minute and test that comparison.

The Matildas are currently ranked fifth in the world and when Bernie Tomic burst onto the scene as a budding 16-year-old at the 2009 Australian Open, the fifth seed in the women’s draw was one Venus Williams.

With a casual 21 grand slams and four Olympic gold medals to her name, Williams is no slouch with a racquet in her hands.

While Bernie did stun Potito Starace in the first round and became the youngest ever male to win at the Australian Open, had Tomic come up against Venus in Melbourne that day, I know who my money would have been on.

Following the Matildas’ defeat the Facebook commenters did not mince their words and the few defending the result drew some ridiculously long bows.

One tried to play the sexism card and said it was unfair to be critical considering the Socceroos have lost by similar margins in recent years to Brazil and France.

Comparing a bunch of teenagers in Newcastle to World Cup-winning countries? Right.

Anyway, back to the press conference in the nation’s capital on Sunday. Just moments after preaching equality for female athletes, Shorten, the gift that keeps on giving, failed to name the captains of our national women’s hockey and cricket teams.

They are Madonna Blyth (hockey) and Meg Lanning (cricket) just in case you were wondering.

The leader of the Opposition then had the audacity to suggest his limited knowledge may be because only seven per cent of sport coverage on Australian television is dedicated to women.

Billy, did you ever stop and think for a second there might be a reason for that outside the possibility all the movers-and-shakers in Australian sports broadcasting are misogynist pigs?

In a world becoming more politically correct every day, people like to suggest women would generate the same TV audience as men if only given the chance.

This is a ridiculous notion. Everything that makes its way onto TV gets there for one simple reason — demand.

Do you think Kerry Packer would have ignored an opportunity to make money showing female sports on Channel 9 if the opportunity was there?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — a sport’s exposure rises and falls on its ability to make money. If it can, it will, and if it can’t it will fall by the wayside.

Going back to tennis, an often-asked question is whether female players deserve to get paid the same as men at Grand Slams for doing three-fifths the work and providing even less of the television audience?

I know I wouldn’t be the only one to suggest not.

Indian Wells is considered the biggest tennis tournament outside the majors and last year the event chief executive Raymond Moore came under fire for suggesting female players had a lot to thank the men for.

‘‘When I come back in my next life I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They are very, very lucky,’’ Moore said.

‘‘I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.’’

This caused an uproar, mainly for the sexual connotations attached to the second comment, and Moore was forced to resign over the remarks.

However, if you stop and think for two seconds and stop your knee from jerking, you’ll find Moore’s comments really aren’t that outrageous.

The only reason women are paid the same as men in tennis is because it’s the only sport on the world stage played in conjunction with men.

If you want to see Federer play on Rod Laver Arena you must also pay for a women’s match, they’re a packaged deal, no two ways about it.

Imagine if golf took the same approach.

We’re at Augusta, Adam Scott’s group tees off, then a women’s group tees off, then Tiger Woods and his group tee off.

You can bet your bottom dollar those male players would drag female salaries through the roof thanks to TV broadcasting deals and ticket sales.

Novak Djokovic tends to agree with my position.

‘‘Stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,’’ Djokovic said.

‘‘I think that is one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more (money).’’

Respected ABC and Fox Sports journalist Kelli Underwood, a fierce feminist, is often fighting the good fight for women in sport.

Underwood pointed to last year’s US Open when the women’s final sold out faster than the men’s as telling evidence there is demand for the women’s game.

What Underwood failed to mention was that Serena Williams was vying to become the first American woman in the Open Era to complete a Grand Slam (winning the four majors in a single calendar year).

The tickets for the women’s decider were all sold out long before Williams was stunned in the semis by the unseeded Roberta Vinci.

If I were a betting man, I would wager a month’s pay cheque it was the first time this century, possibly ever, a women’s final has sold out before a men’s.

Want to know the most watched female sporting event in the history of television?

Figure skating at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway. Aka the finale of the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan fiasco.

I’m not suggesting we kneecap the coverage of women’s sport like Harding’s degenerate ex-husband Jeff Gillooly’s ill-fated plot, but let’s think about things rationally before we splash $21million in taxpayers’ money.

In the words of British anthropologist Gregory Bateson — ‘‘without context, words and actions have no meaning at all’’.

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