New Zealand Cricket striking a deal to remunerate its women cricketers the same as their male counterparts is a major landmark in the fight to close the gender pay gap in sports. From August, New Zealand’s men and women players will be entitled to the same match fees, both at the international and domestic levels. This comes four months after the United States’ women’s national footballers won the six-year-long battle with their federation to secure equal compensation. The agreements are expected to be game changers, encouraging more girls to take up the sports. As New Zealand captain Sophie Devine said, “It’s great to be recognised in the same agreement, alongside the men. It’s a massive step forward and will be a huge drawcard for young women and girls.” But victories in equal pay struggles have not come easy. Tennis moved first because of the untiring efforts of Billie Jean King, who pressured US Open to shell out the same for men and women back in 1973. That it took another 34 years for the other three Grand Slam tournaments to come around, with Wimbledon the last in 2007, shows the road is still uphill. Football, basketball and golf remain holdouts. Seen in this context, the decisions in New Zealand and the U.S. appear seismic.
Barriers to bridging the pay gap have come from various quarters. In tennis, the sporting argument that men play best-of-five-set matches at the Majors while the women best-of-three is often made. In cricket, any move to narrow the monetary gap between men and women, especially in India, is dithered over by citing lower market ratings for the ladies’ game. But it would be prudent to focus on the factors that are holding women back — unequal opportunities, curtailed playing time and lack of investment. Historically, men taking to sport and following sport have been organic exercises, largely because of social conditioning. Women, on the other hand, have been forced to internalise that sporting participation and fandom are not for them. The need of the hour is to eliminate such barriers and improve access. The prime example in India is the success of Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu, who benefited from a reasonably well-structured system, found success and rose to become highly paid stars in their own right. It will also help if the terms of the debate are widened. Reducing the pay gap is also about being fair and respectful, and recognising the effort and excellence women bring to sport. It is time the vicious cycle of fewer women accessing sports, fewer women becoming professionals and hence fewer women having commercial opportunities is broken and the glacial pace of the journey towards pay parity hastened.