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.
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.
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...