It’s been a big week for gender equality in Australian sport.
First Australia’s Ash Barty claimed the biggest winner’s cheque in tennis history, taking home a cool $US4.42 million ($6.4 million) prize packet.
And now there’s a local pay deal that could go down as a world first. Should Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the Football Players’ Association (PFA) announce on Friday that the Matildas are guaranteed pay equality with the Socceroos, it would be nothing short of a remarkable coup for gender equity in sport.
The problem is that these negotiations are notoriously fraught and complex, so it is difficult to know just how equitable this version of pay equality will be.
Take the suggestion, made by News Corp publications, that the Matildas and Socceroos will share 50 per cent of commercial revenue and 40 per cent of prize money associated with the national teams.
Presently, the players’ collective bargaining agreement stipulates that both teams get a 30 per cent share of prize money. The problem is that the Socceroos’ prize money is exponentially greater than the Matildas’.
In their most recent World Cup tournaments, for instance, the Socceroos earned $8 million just for qualifying (and then failing to win a single game), while the Matildas earned $1 million for making the knockout stages.
So even with the same percentage cut, the Matildas inevitably ended up with a much smaller share. Equal percentage, inequitable outcome.
Two teams, one pot
A truly revolutionary deal would by contrast see the Socceroos and Matildas share the same percentage of a total prize money pool.
In other words, the two teams would need to combine their total prize money and then split it equitably (40 per cent each, and 20 per cent back to the FFA).
That could mean one of two things — either the Socceroos are prepared, as the Norwegian national men’s team did, to take a pay cut for the Matildas — or that the FFA, despite taking a cut in its own revenue, will find a way to redirect more money to women’s football.
Beyond prize money and commercial revenue lies a range of complex questions about equity in base salaries, match payments and other travel benefits.
The devil will be in the detail of the finalised deal as to whether historical inequities (such as the Socceroos guaranteed business class flights while the Matildas travel in economy) will be ironed out in the process.
What about the domestic competition?
The other big unknown is what this means for football on the domestic stage.
Australia’s biggest star Sam Kerr has already announced that she will be leaving the W-League to pursue opportunities in Europe — most likely in England or France.
In England, the Women’s Super League this year received a major boost, announcing a three-year partnership with Barclays worth more than 10 million pounds.
Prize money, which was previously non-existent, is now 500,000 pounds.
These figures blow what will soon become an independent W-League out of the water, despite a recently signed a one-year extension that will see women’s minimum wage increase by 33 per cent (to $16,344 for their shorter season).
Despite the FFA’s contention that this puts women on the “same base pay for same base work”, A-League players’ salaries are still significantly higher, at a minimum of $64,113 for players aged over 20.
So while the Matildas’ looming pay deal is big news for national representatives, it is imperative to ask how to ensure pay equity for lower-tier players who rely on paltry wages that barely pay the bills.
It’s a similar battle for the AFLW
This has been one of the many battles contested in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations between the AFLW players, the AFL Players’ Association (AFLPA) and the AFL.
Although the players have now agreed to a revised CBA, the way those negotiations played out in the media revealed just how far Australian sport has to go when it comes to achieving gender equity — particularly at the negotiation table.
At the beginning of October, an explosive email from AFLPA chief executive Paul Marsh was leaked to the media in which Marsh accused players opposing the deal of waging “an aggressive and damaging PR campaign” designed to “undermine” and “weaken” the AFLPA.
Further, Marsh threatened that unless CBA negotiations were resolved, players may not be paid and pre-season for 2020 may not go ahead.
This is despite it being well within the players’ rights to campaign for a better deal, including a vision for the competition, standards of umpiring, changerooms and season length — and the fact that Marsh and the AFLPA are meant to act as their representative.
Further inflaming the situation, players who voted no were subsequently singled out by Fox Sports as “strong-willed women” and the “ring leaders” behind the campaign.
For all the questions remaining on the Matildas’ deal, the AFLW debacle should remind that it is credit to the strong-willed women and men working behind the scenes to agitate for change that such a groundbreaking deal is even being considered.
Kate O’Halloran researches women in sport at the Institute of Health and Sport at Victoria University and is a former Victorian cricketer.