NZ faces a long road to equal­ity

We think of our­selves as a fair coun­try but in sport there is a lot of work to do be­fore men and women are on the same foot­ing, writes Olivia Cald­well.

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT -

The gen­der pay gap in New Zealand is clos­ing slightly but through fi­nan­cial re­straints, tra­di­tion and the sta­tus quo of Kiwi sports me­dia, women in sport are not given their due div­i­dends.

Auck­land Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor and for­mer sports jour­nal­ist Toni Bruce has been con­duct­ing re­search on women’s sport cov­er­age in me­dia since 1984 and said there has been next to no im­prove­ment on the small amount given to women which, at best, has hov­ered around the 10 per cent mark for the past 30 years.

‘‘There is plenty of ev­i­dence that we see par­tic­i­pa­tion in sport as im­por­tant and valu­able for girls and women. But their ab­sence in sports me­dia sends the mes­sage: ‘Go ahead and play, but don’t ex­pect us to pay at­ten­tion’. This means that what sportswome­n do is not seen as cul­tur­ally im­por­tant.’’

Prof Bruce said there are rare oc­ca­sions when women’s sport hits the front page, but only when it is seen to be of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance such as the Com­mon­wealth Games or Olympic Games when both men and women take part at the same venues. Women who win medals in these events of­ten be­come house­hold names.

‘‘We can also see this pat­tern emerg­ing in re­la­tion to women’s rugby. The Black Ferns’ games and win­ning of the 2017 Rugby World Cup got a lot of me­dia at­ten­tion. But this doesn’t fil­ter down to the pro­vin­cial level, where the women’s teams in the Farah Palmer Cup com­pe­ti­tion are al­most com­pletely in­vis­i­ble. The Black Ferns are na­tional cit­i­zens, but the pro­vin­cial women’s teams are ‘‘fe­male ath­letes’’. As a re­sult, they don’t get any­where near the same level of at­ten­tion.’’

Sex­ism in sport cov­er­age

One ar­gu­ment of why sports me­dia choose not to cover women’s sport is be­cause its au­di­ence is pre­dom­i­nantly male.

How­ever Prof Bruce says fe­males of­ten turn away from read­ing the sports news be­cause there are no women’s sports to read about – a cy­cle which needs to be ad­dressed, she said. ‘‘So many days I read the sports sec­tion and all is see is men, men, men. Yet, in events that in­clude women, the fe­male au­di­ence is al­ways higher.

‘‘It seems like com­mon­sense to me that they [me­dia] could build read­er­ship sig­nif­i­cantly by in­clud­ing more women’s sport and con­sis­tently fol­low com­pe­ti­tions so that read­ers come to know the ath­letes and teams and build a con­nec­tion with them.’’

Prof Bruce said the me­dia is not it­self to blame for the dom­i­nant cov­er­age of male sports only, as it was only re­flect­ing and re­in­forc­ing so­ci­ety’s ‘‘dom­i­nant ideas’’.

‘‘Be­cause we as­so­ciate sport with men and mas­culin­ity, that gen­er­ally leaves women some­what on the out­side.’’

What our Kiwi fe­male sports jour­nal­ists think

It is a cul­ture thing re­ally. We don’t quite take women ath­letes as se­ri­ous as we take male ath­letes. Hayley Holt

In New Zealand there are few fe­male sports re­porters both in print and broad­cast­ing, as men con­tinue to dom­i­nate the in­dus­try.

Prof Bruce said it would do sports me­dia the world of good to have a big­ger rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women, as well as di­ver­sity in other ar­eas to re­flect the di­ver­sity of New Zealan­ders.

How­ever, in­ter­na­tional re­search shows that al­though women jour­nal­ists do tend to cover more women’s sport than men, the dif­fer­ence it makes to over­all cov­er­age is quite small. This is be­cause, like their male col­leagues, women also like to cover pin­na­cle sports and events – of­ten well-tele­vised and read male sports.

A con­cern­ing statis­tic is that women of­ten don’t stay in sports jour­nal­ism be­cause it is male­dom­i­nated and ‘‘they find them­selves treated as out­siders’’.

Two very prom­i­nent Kiwi fe­male faces in the sports me­dia in­dus­try, Hayley Holt and Melodie Robin­son, both agree there needs to be a big­ger fe­male pres­ence.

Holt has been with the Crowd Goes Wild for eight years and said dur­ing that time she has seen cov­er­age of women’s sport in New Zealand get slightly bet­ter, but said there was a long way to go for equal­ity.

‘‘We are get­ting in be­hind these teams, but it takes in­ter­na­tional suc­cess to be­lieve in our­selves,’’ Holt says.

‘‘It is a cul­ture thing re­ally. We don’t quite take women ath­letes as se­ri­ous as we take male ath­letes and the me­dia fol­low pub­lic pres­sure and pop­u­lar­ity con­tests.’’

Holt be­lieves it is the me­dia’s job to front-foot the change that is needed and turn things around by con­cen­trat­ing on women’s sport more widely than cur­rently hap­pens.

She said there are few women in sports me­dia and of­ten when they are on tele­vi­sion it is for ‘‘to­ken’’ value, and the ex­pert woman can of­ten not be taken se­ri­ously.

‘‘I feel like these shows can al­ways have one woman on a panel and they are al­ways a to­ken and never a leader. It feels like to­kenism and yes they do of­ten get judged on what you look like.

‘‘Ab­so­lutely in sport we are hugely male dom­i­nated so de­ci­sions made will be dom­i­nated by men. Men’s sport is taken more se­ri­ously, but this is from the grass­roots up.’’

Al­though Holt’s me­dia ca­reer has been suc­cess­ful, she said it has of­ten been a chal­lenge be­ing a woman in the in­dus­try and that she has had to con­stantly ig­nore peo­ple’s doubts about her and ‘‘over de­liver’’ in com­par­i­son with her male col­leagues.

‘‘We do al­ways come sec­ond re­ally to the men around us and we of­ten have sort of good look­ing women on a panel who are re­ally there for en­ter­tain­ment value and they ex­pect you to say some­thing cute, kind of like ‘oh that’s cute the lady’s talk­ing’.

‘‘To­tally if you want to suc­ceed in sport you have to be good look­ing, smi­ley be­cause a good look­ing girl can sell a prod­uct.’’

For­mer Black Fern turned Sky Sport rugby com­men­ta­tor Robin­son has set up The Won­der­ful Group in or­der to get more women in to sports me­dia and also help those women al­ready in the in­dus­try to move up the chain and into lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

‘‘We’re look­ing to net­work and cel­e­brate women in sports me­dia, and sup­port each other,’’ she says.

‘‘And by sports me­dia I mean ev­ery­one – pro­duc­ers, cam­era op­er­a­tors, tal­ent, writ­ers, sports com­mu­ni­ca­tions, lec­tur­ers, ath­letes who want ca­reers in the in­dus­try, and of course ex­ec­u­tives.’’

Robin­son set up The Won­der­ful Group be­cause she saw a huge gap in sports me­dia and be­lieves there is not enough me­dia cov­er­age given to women’s sport.

‘‘Just look at the web­sites, news­pa­pers, and tele­vi­sion cov­er­age. Not only is women’s sport not cov­ered as much as men’s it’s cov­ered dif­fer­ently.’’

Women of in­flu­ence

Last year New Zealand Rugby ap­pointed its first fe­male board mem­ber since it was es­tab­lished in 1892. For­mer Black Fern Farah Palmer was called up to the plate.

How­ever, for this ap­point­ment to make any dif­fer­ence to the way rugby is gov­erned, there needs to be more women ap­pointed and the trend needs to con­tinue, says Massey Uni­ver­sity aca­demic pro­fes­sor Sarah Le­ber­man.

Le­ber­man is an ex­pert in fe­male lead­ers of sport and says the amount of women in lead­er­ship roles on New Zealand sport­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions is ‘‘woe­ful’’ and has seen very lit­tle change in the past six years since she be­gan col­lect­ing data.

‘‘The short an­swer is, no we don’t think we have enough on na­tional or re­gional sports trusts or boards. Things are im­prov­ing slowly but it’s glacial. We are not mak­ing big mas­sive leaps, but the tide is chang­ing.

‘‘Fifty per cent of our pop­u­la­tion are women so they need to be on these pan­els mak­ing de­ci­sions on fund­ing, for these fe­male play­ers. We are a long way off this.’’

Le­ber­man said boards were of­ten made up of the white, older males, which she strug­gles to be­lieve could re­late to en­tire sport­ing de­mo­graph­ics.

She said the di­ver­sity range on NZ sport­ing bod­ies was ‘‘woe­ful’’.

The ar­gu­ment that there are not enough qual­i­fied women for these po­si­tions was com­pletely false, she said, and the quick fix for equal­ity would be to write a ‘50 per cent’ rule into the con­sti­tu­tion of sport­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions.

NZR’s Palmer agreed it was a good thing to have a fe­male in­volved in de­ci­sion mak­ing, and she is of­ten push­ing for the women’s side of the game at board meet­ings.

‘‘I can’t help my­self [push for women’s rugby], ev­ery­one is very pas­sion­ate about rugby our vi­sion is to have ev­ery­one play­ing the game.’’

Prov­ing the point that as a woman in a high po­si­tion of sport one needs to show ex­tra dili­gence, Palmer says she is con­scious of prov­ing her worth on the board.

‘‘It is im­por­tant [to have a woman on the board] and I don’t want to stuff it up for the next woman who comes on board, so I go in very pre­pared and well re­searched.’’

Palmer ad­mit­ted she would like to see more women join her at the NZ Rugby board ta­ble. ‘‘Women’s rugby is part and par­cel of NZ Rugby, it is part of the growth and part of our duty.’’

But Palmer ad­mit­ted the Black Ferns were up against it for a host of rea­sons and pro­fes­sion­al­ism is ‘‘a very long way off’’.

Kiwi fe­male sports still dom­i­nat­ing?

In the past New Zealand has taken for granted the fact Kiwi women con­tin­u­ally de­liver medals, tro­phies and cups, dom­i­nat­ing on a world­wide scale, with­out the in­cen­tive of re­mu­ner­a­tion.

How­ever, as the pro­fes­sional era hits in­ter­na­tional women’s sports such as cricket, rugby and foot­ball, could our Kiwi women be left be­hind if they don’t also adopt their sports full-time?

Two re­cent ex­am­ples give two very dif­fer­ent an­swers.

The White Ferns trav­elled to the UK ear­lier this year in their bid to win the Women’s Cricket World Cup but they failed mis­er­ably when kicked out of the group stage by In­dia, a na­tion who has been fo­cus­ing heav­ily on the women’s game and putting more re­sources into it. Eng­land, who be­came pro­fes­sional in 2014, were the even­tual win­ners.

In con­trast, the Black Ferns de­liv­ered when they brought home the women’s Rugby World Cup last month, up against a fully pro­fes­sional side, Eng­land, in the fi­nal.

Robin­son be­lieves the Black Ferns’ suc­cess was due to the women’s com­mit­ment to the game and their tal­ent, not the ‘‘lim­ited sup­port’’ they had been given by NZ Rugby. ‘‘The rest of the world has caught up to us in rugby as shown by how Eng­land beat us in June [in New Zealand]. They have pro­fes­sional con­tracts, our fif­teens play­ers don’t.

‘‘The Black Ferns need to have more reg­u­lar test matches, an in­ter­na­tional cal­en­dar. New Zealand will lose more test matches in the fu­ture if we don’t get in­ter­na­tional test rugby go­ing for teams out­side of the Six Na­tions.’’

She be­lieved it was up to NZR to step in and do some­thing about the pay gap be­tween the men and women’s game.

‘‘Get a com­mer­cial man­ager in NZR that re­ally cares about women’s rugby to sell it. I think we need to se­ri­ously look at set­ting up pro­fes­sional teams. For in­stance, why can’t we have women’s Su­per Rugby sides?’’

Robin­son said the Kiwi men­tal­ity of box­ing above our weight could all come to a crash­ing end if we don’t en­ter the pro­fes­sional era of women’s sport. ‘‘I think we over­achieve in a lot of sports as other coun­tries have higher re­sources than us.’’

Is it all down to the money?

Af­ter the Black Ferns re­turned home with the World Cup it didn’t go un­no­ticed that these women be­came world cham­pi­ons as part­time play­ers re­ceiv­ing next to noth­ing for their ef­forts.

There was talk of the Black Ferns be­com­ing a paid pro­fes­sional side, how­ever NZ Rugby chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Tew poured cold wa­ter on that quickly and said it is not pos­si­ble to have these women paid for the game at this stage.

NZ Rugby said said in 2016 $5.5 mil­lion was in­vested di­rectly into the women’s game, a $2 mil­lion in­crease in fund­ing on 2015.

NZ Rugby said it was un­able to pro­vide Stuff with the amount of money in­vested in the All Blacks or men’s rugby as it was com­mer­cially sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion, but it is safe to as­sume it dwarfs this fig­ure.

The Black Ferns are not the only na­tional side to be faced with a ques­tion over pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Hockey NZ, Foot­ball NZ, Bas­ket­ball NZ and Cricket NZ all face de­ci­sions on how to dis­trib­ute money be­tween the men and women’s games.

High Per­for­mance New Zealand have a dis­tri­bu­tion list for sport­ing codes and for any sport­ing code to re­ceive fund­ing they must meet the four key cri­te­ria; past per­for­mance, fu­ture po­ten­tial, qual­ity of the pro­gramme and the in­ter­na­tional con­text of the sport.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has 367 ath­letes sup­ported through their pro­gramme with 53 per cent of those male and 47 per cent fe­male.

While there was a rea­son­ably even spread be­tween men and women’s sports, there were dis­crep­an­cies as the men’s Black Sticks re­ceived a $700,000 in­vest­ment based on the four key cri­te­ria, whereas the women did not.

Bas­ket­ball New Zealand have also reg­u­larly ap­plied for fund­ing for the Tall Ferns through HPNZ with no luck, yet the Tall Blacks this year re­ceived an added $125,000 from HPNZ.

Bas­ket­ball NZ in­vests an even $400,000 each to­wards both na­tional teams.

Hockey New Zealand in­vested the same amount to both men and women’s Black Sticks, as did Foot­ball New Zealand. How­ever the Foot­ball Ferns re­ceived ex­tra fund­ing from HPNZ.

GETTY IMAGES, MONIQUE FORD/FAIR­FAX NZ

Clock­wise from main: the Black Ferns cel­e­brate their World Cup win in Belfast last month; Hayley Holt has carved out a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the me­dia but con­stantly feels the pres­sure to ‘over­per­form’ com­pared to her male col­leagues; for­mer Black Fern...

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