Giant step for women in sport

This ref­eree takes charge of a men’s rugby in­ter­na­tional to­mor­row – and hopes her his­toric mo­ment will prove an in­spi­ra­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - OLIVER BROWN

It has be­come fash­ion­able, amid all the sound and fury about re­shap­ing Bri­tish sovereignty, to han­ker af­ter the “Nor­way model”. Leave the Euro­pean Union, but re­tain ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket: how pleas­antly semi-de­tached life over there seems. For­get the fact that Tromso is con­sumed for 57 days a year by po­lar dark­ness, or that a cup of cof­fee in Oslo costs enough to leave you con­va­lesc­ing from open-wal­let surgery. As for Nor­we­gian tele­vi­sion. “The best that can be said,” ar­gued Bill Bryson in Nei­ther Here Nor There, “is that it gives you the sen­sa­tion of a coma with­out the worry and in­con­ve­nience”.

But our Norse brethren are, un­de­ni­ably, a pro­gres­sive bunch. This week, Nor­way’s foot­ball fed­er­a­tion ap­proved a deal where, for the first time, male and fe­male play­ers would re­ceive the same money – around £574,000 per year, per team – for rep­re­sent­ing their na­tion. To achieve such equal­ity, the men have had to agree to give up an an­nual £53,000 in mar­ket­ing pay­ments. The sym­bol­ism of the ges­ture is pro­found. “This means ev­ery­thing for us, for our sport,” Caro­line Gra­ham Hansen, Nor­way’s cap­tain, said, ad­dress­ing her male coun­ter­parts. “For you to say that equal pay is how it should be makes me want to cry.”

Nor­way, in com­mon with other Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, al­ready has a record on gen­der equal­ity that puts Bri­tain to shame. Women con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of the highly-skilled work­force. Pub­licly listed com­pa­nies have been re­quired, for the best part of the decade, to have at least 40 per cent of each sex on their boards. The coun­try has not just a wo­man as prime min­is­ter, but as fi­nance min­is­ter, too. With the ex­ten­sion of such en­light­en­ment to foot­ball, it ap­pears as if one of the last bas­tions of pa­tri­archy is be­ing stormed. Im­pla­ca­ble freemar­ke­teers mut­ter, pre­dictably, that it is all a non­sense, that male play­ers bring in the broad­cast­ing bucks and there­fore they should be paid vastly more. Nor­way’s equal-pay rev­o­lu­tion was even char­ac­terised this week as merely a sub­sidy that re­warded women foot­ballers for be­ing less pro­duc­tive.

Where to start with this? For one thing, it as­sumes that men and women play­ing the game have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to be­gin with. The re­al­ity is very dif­fer­ent: An­ders Kon­rad­sen and An­ders Trond­sen, in­volved with both the men’s na­tional team and lead­ing Nor­we­gian club Rosen­borg, com­mand com­fort­able if not lav­ish wages. For the women, the story in­volves jug­gling foot­ball with work or study to com­mand even a half­way re­spectable in­come.

No won­der their cap­tain ac­knowl­edged that the grant­ing of a fixed wage for men and women alike would “make it a bit eas­ier for us to achieve our dreams”.

As for the lack of pro­duc­tiv­ity ar­gu­ment, it is as of­fen­sive as it is

The ar­gu­ment over lack of pro­duc­tiv­ity is ab­surd. The women are ranked 14th, the men 73rd

ab­surd. The Nor­we­gian men’s team once com­manded vast re­spect, hav­ing van­quished Brazil in the 1998 World Cup and Spain at Euro 2000, but ever since they have been in a tail­spin. Come Qatar 2022, they will have gone 24 years with­out reach­ing a World Cup. The in­dig­nity was summed up last year, when they al­lowed San Marino to score a first away goal since 2001. The women’s record is more lus­trous: af­ter all, they won a World Cup in 1995. They stand 14th in Fifa’s global rank­ings, as against 73rd for the men.

It is long over­due, then, that such suc­cess is prop­erly re­mu­ner­ated. Even now, there is a temp­ta­tion among those who should know bet­ter to air­brush women’s foot­ball out of the pic­ture. Take this week’s ex­is­ten­tial angst in the US about the men’s team’s fail­ure to qual­ify for Rus­sia 2018. Use­less lag­gards, the lot of them, goes the cry. Re­plant the grass roots. Noth­ing less than a root-and­branch re­struc­ture will suf­fice, ap­par­ently, af­ter a de­feat against Trinidad and Tobago – one that Tay­lor Twell­man, a for­mer Ma­jor League Soc­cer star, claimed would give all the play­ers “night­mares for the rest of their lives”. Where in this is an ac­knowl­edge­ment that the women’s side re­main in rude health or that they have won the World Cup three times? Ca­sual sex­ism, of the kind to which Andy Mur­ray al­luded at Wim­ble­don this year, is alive and well. Mur­ray icily re­buked a re­porter who de­scribed Sam Quer­rey as the first Amer­i­can to ad­vance to a ma­jor semi-fi­nal since 2009, some­how for­get­ting that Ser­ena Wil­liams had done so 17 times. Once again, sportswomen of the cal­i­bre of Ali Krieger and Amy Ro­driguez, with 228 in­ter­na­tional caps between them, are be­ing treated as af­ter­thoughts, as if they do not mat­ter in the wider de­bate. Thank­fully, Scan­di­navia is show­ing the way. To­mor­row in Helsinki, an­other glass ceil­ing will be shat­tered when Spanish ref­eree Al­ham­bra Nievas be­comes the first wo­man to take charge of a men’s in­ter­na­tional rugby union fix­ture, between Fin­land and Nor­way. Even more en­cour­ag­ingly, she will be part of an all-fe­male trio of of­fi­cials.

Nievas is adamant that she only ever wants to be con­sid­ered for ref­er­ee­ing du­ties on merit, not on gen­der. This is why Nor­way’s move to equal pay in foot­ball so ran­kles with diehard mer­i­to­crats: it is seen as gim­mickry, an ex­er­cise in virtue-sig­nalling. It is any­thing but. A sys­tem sim­ply pay­ing ath­letes ac­cord­ing to the rev­enues their per­for­mances gen­er­ate threat­ens to hold women’s foot­ball back in­def­i­nitely. Crit­ics of Nor­way’s ac­tion in­sist that they want to see equal­ity of out­come for women, but they seem per­fectly con­tent to ac­cept in­equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity. Scoff­ing at such progress does more than de­mean women – it is also pa­tro­n­is­ing to those on the Nor­we­gian men’s team who are play­ing their part in re­dress­ing an ugly sta­tus quo. One by one, doors for women in sport are be­ing prised open. Nor­way’s is an ex­am­ple to em­u­late, not to den­i­grate.

De­lighted: Nor­way cap­tain Caro­line Gra­ham Hansen

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