Professional female athletes need to be paid a fair wage

Wellington Phoenix star Chloe Knott has walked away from professional football. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Wellington Phoenix star Chloe Knott has walked away from professional football. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Imagine dedicating your life to sport.

You spend every spare second training, plan your life around nutrition and recovery, and deal with everything else that comes with being a professional athlete.

Now imagine going through that gruelling routine only to have to give up your sporting dream due to being underpaid.

Does not sound fun, does it?

It has been a reality for many female athletes through the years, making headlines again recently when Wellington Phoenix vice-captain Chloe Knott announced she was leaving the club as she was unable to make ends meet.

While there were other issues surrounding the Phoenix environment highlighted in Knott’s leaving, it brings to light pay disparities again.

Knott, a Phoenix foundation player, opened up about struggling to pay for her mortgage in Auckland and rent in Wellington.

A-League women’s teams have a salary cap of $NZ645,000 for their 20-player squad.

That works out to be a salary of just $32,000 per player.

New Zealand’s average working salary reached $70,000 earlier this year, so $32,000 hardly seems sustainable to encourage our young female athletes to pursue a sporting career.

Phoenix player of the year Michaela Foster worked at a supermarket to support herself last season, and many have other careers to support themselves.

A report from the International Federation of Professional Footballers' Associations earlier this year revealed 66% of players were forced to take unpaid leave to compete at the World Cup qualifiers and only 40% of the players at the World Cup considered themselves professional footballers.

Across the ditch, Australian netballers spent nine weeks essentially unemployed as they battled Netball Australia for new agreements to their playing contracts.

Australian Netball Players’ Association president Jo Weston was in tears as she fronted media last week, outlining the stress of the situation as players moved home and some were forced to sleep in cars due to no income.

Netball Australia went as far as threatening legal action against Diamonds players if they did not attend their awards, which the great Liz Ellis slammed as "callous disregard".

Two months of turmoil appears to have ended after a new collective player agreement, running until 2026, was settled last week.

The maximum base salary will rise from $655,000 to $690,995 next year.

Deloitte has predicted elite women’s sport will generate about $1.28 billion in global revenue next year — the first time it will surpass $1b — and 300% higher than Deloitte’s valuation three years ago.

It begs a question.

At a time when women’s sport continues to break barriers, are we happy to sit back and not pay them appropriately?

There has, of course, been progress through the years.

New Zealand Cricket struck a new five-year deal last year for female and male professional cricketers to receive the same match fees.

It means the highest-ranked White Ferns could receive a maximum of $163,246 per year, up from $83,432, and their lowest-ranked player $142,346, up from $62,833.

Super Rugby Aupiki players have also received a boost for next season, as non-Black Ferns players will receive a minimum of $17,000 — more than double last year — for the six-round competition.

Great news, but there is still work to be done.

A quote from Dunedin rally driver Emma Gilmour, speaking about the Extreme E series giving women equal opportunities, has stuck with me.

"I think that’s such a strong message because it showcases, like with all women’s sport, when it’s actually given that platform to be entertaining, it’s as entertaining as when the men are doing it."

They are entertaining. They are worthy. Pay them accordingly.

More records

Thanks to the The Revolution reader who sent in some more records following last month’s column.

They pointed out at the men’s football World Cup last year, commentators labelled Canada’s goal in their loss against Croatia as the greatest moment in Canadian football history. Clearly, they forgot the women won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

It was also a coincidence Glenn Maxwell scored a double century at the Cricket World Cup a few days after the last column.

Commentators hailed it the first double century by an Australian at a World Cup, forgetting Belinda Clark, who scored 200 at the 1997 World Cup.