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Hosking: Real reason US women's football team is paid less than men's

Author
Mike Hosking,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Monday, 11 March 2019, 11:28a.m.
But for the women of the US football team, their income is not remotely gender-based, it is income based.  Photo / Getty Images
But for the women of the US football team, their income is not remotely gender-based, it is income based. Photo / Getty Images

The United States women's football team is suing their employers for equal pay. They have filed in Los Angeles, which generally speaking is seen as liberal, not as liberal as San Francisco, but they’ll be shopping for a lenient judge.

They are suing using the Equal Pay Act and Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act.

This, of course, is a very modern issue. And sadly a very modern mistake, that comes out of the modern issue.

The mistake occurs when you take a basic premise, the basic premise being women should be free to pursue whatever it is they want to pursue. Go back far enough, it was the right to vote, to work, to rise to the top of any given profession. Once those freedoms are broadly established these sort of issues tend to get muddied.

And before you know it you're arguing for aspects of life that aren't actually gender-related. And by-in-large pay is one of them. For example, the Prime Minister of this country is paid a salary, and that salary has nothing to do with gender, or age, or experience.

A lot of wages are experience related, some are age-related, that’s why we have had youth wages.

But for the women of the US football team, their income is not remotely gender-based, it is income based. The talent aspect of it is being solved by being good enough to make the team.

Once that is established, like most elite sports or indeed elite jobs, what you contribute to the sports' or businesses' bottom line is the determining factor. In football's case, it is broadcast rights, ticket sales, ratings, and crowds.

Their sport will earn an income from that, it will also attract sponsorship and branding opportunities. From that, the sport works out what they can afford to pay for the players. The stone cold fact is that, in seeking to make it a gender issue, you are arguing you should be paid the same as the men's team.

But the men's team has a different bottom line. Their ratings broadcast rights, ticket sales and marketing brings in more than the women's.

Now you can argue all you want about whether that's right or not, but what you can't argue about, is that it is real, dollars are real, and the bottom line is real. And if your bottom line is smaller than the people you want equality with, then to make up the difference someone else is having to pay.

Now some sports do. Surfing is one, football here is another, but make no mistake, that’s a political decision, not a business one.

It's the same trouble we've got into over gender pay gaps, because the gap is an average and no one individual's circumstances are average but unique, and we need to invent things to balance it out.

A court doesn’t invent stuff. It rules on law and that, I suspect, is where they are going to come unstuck.

And here's one of the great ironies of this whole debate, gender equality was about freedoms and access. And in the western world generally, women have achieved it. Isn't then, taking it a step further and wandering into the world of the artificial, and making things gender-based when they're not, devaluing the desire to stand on your own two feet and argue your own case on its merits?

The merits of the bottom line in elite sport are clear, what income does your talent attract to the sport? And from that you earn your income, anything else is stacking the deck and expecting artificial advantage.

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