Pay equity in sports overshadows the FIFA Women’s World Cup

Click to play video: 'U.S. Women’s Soccer fights for equal pay for equal play'
U.S. Women’s Soccer fights for equal pay for equal play
WATCH: The win for the U.S. women's soccer team at the FIFA World Cup has renewed calls for equal compensation in sports – Jul 8, 2019

Team U.S.A. was happy to accept the adulation for winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, but its players were more interested in continuing their fight back home for pay equity.

After beating the Netherlands 2-0, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe says there was no mistaking that the crowd was chanting “equal pay, equal pay.”

“Yes, (we) definitely heard that as we were lining up,” she said. “I think it is just everybody is ready for it. Everybody wants it, everybody is ready for the conversation to move to the next piece, and to have something like that — and, obviously, in the biggest match — that went so far beyond anything … it was pretty incredible.”

Rapinoe has been one of the most vocal critics of FIFA’s compensation structure for the month-long tournament. While last year’s men’s World Cup offered a total purse of $400 million, the women’s teams worked from a pool of $30 million.

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Even taking viewership into account — the men’s World Cup triples the one billion people who watched the women — the numbers don’t add up.

Ryerson University sports marketing expert Katie Lebel says FIFA made the American players’ point for them by showing how a little promotion can lead to large audiences.

“When those things are given to women’s sport, (players) succeed and they excel,” Lebel told Global News. “They shock everybody with the numbers they’re able to generate. But as soon as that’s taken away, they’re asked to do the same things with much, much less in terms of resources.”

Photographer Alana Paterson was so put off by a study from the Tucker Centre for Research on Girls and Women in Sport — which found that only four per cent of all sports media attention is devoted to women — she created a photographic essay on girls in sport. Paterson says the girls she met all knew their dreams of playing hockey at the highest levels were unrealistic.

“Well, for hockey, it’s basically university is the aspiration,” she said. “Success is generally measured by making Team Canada. University is pretty much the roof, the ceiling. But that’s awesome (because) it’s an education, right?”

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For women who pursue professional careers in sport, the pay is a fraction of what men make. It boils down to demand: the WNBA averages 7,000 fans per game; the U.S.-based National Women’s Soccer League (which has no teams in Canada) averages just over 6,000. Neither league has athletes that make a lot of money.

In golf, the Women’s British Open recently announced plans to increase its purse 40 per cent to $4.5 million — but even so, the men are still playing for double the cash.

WATCH: Global News coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup

Perhaps the most successful sport at realizing pay equity is tennis, where the women’s tour routinely draws higher ratings. As such, the four majors have offered equal prize money in recent years.

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However, other tournaments on the schedule have yet to follow suit. Canada’s Rogers Cup, which alternates between Toronto and Montreal each year, still has the male winner pocketing double what the top woman earns.

“It’s unfortunate that for a woman to make it in a male-dominated arena, she has to be the best,” Paterson said. “She can’t be mediocre. She has to be the best in the world. And then people start to pay attention. But it’s really hard to be the best.”

In fact, only one woman made the Forbes top 100 paid athletes in the world. Serena Williams checked in at No. 63.

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