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by Claire Munday

Competing for equality: Sportswomen’s fight for a fair playing field

August 5th, the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. A much-anticipated spectacle, where sporting elite will showcase their skills, in exchange for medals, accolades and adulation. However, sportswomen find themselves having to compete in far more than their chosen sport, they’re also competing for equality.

Most often the debate focuses on equal pay, but the argument goes further than that. Let’s take a look through some examples, where more can be done to allow men and women to compete on a fair playing field.


Wimbledon was actually the last of the Grand Slams to finally reward women the same prize money as men. However, some of the women only tournaments still earn less than the male equivalent, so there is still some way to go before the equal pay issue is won.

The five set debate tends to be used as an example for why men should earn more, as it’s an endurance test. However, women playing best of three actually makes it harder to compete at a top level and has huge implications on the money they earn. For example, to win in a men’s Grand Slam tennis match, he has to win three sets. This means he could lose the first two sets, or win only one of the first three sets and still go on to win the match. In women’s tennis if either of those scenarios occur, the opponent has no opportunity to fight back, she’s already lost. It’s hardly fair and if men only played best of three in Grand Slams, then the top ten may look significantly different. Andy Murray would have been knocked out in the semi-final of the last Australian Open, instead of losing to Djokovic in the final. This means he would also have earned only $800,000 instead of $1.9million.

There is no reason why women can’t at least trial playing five sets. If it turns out to be too enduring, change the number of games required to win a set, but still keep it best of five. Allow women the opportunity to fight back in a tennis match. If the 2005 Wimbledon final is anything to go by, endurance won’t be an issue – the women played 45 minutes longer than the men’s five set final.


After another disappointing tournament for the England Football Team, perhaps it’s time we sacked them off in favour of supporting our Lionesses? After all, they are currently ranked 4th in the World, compared to the men’s team in 13th. Having been a whisker away from reaching the World Cup Final in 2015, they still came out 3rd overall, beating Germany for the honour. In their last three tournaments they have achieved far more than the men have since Euro 96.

Scotland’s ladies also fare better and are ranked 21 compared to the men at 50, plus Republic of Ireland’s women’s team tie with the men at 31 in the world. The women teams barely get any representation on TV, despite their overwhelming international success, considering the men’s game has multiple coverage across many platforms and on different days. If you want to see the women’s equivalent of Match Of The Day, imaginatively titled, The Women’s Football Show, good news, you can. It’s on BBC2, at the appealing time of around 11pm (time varies weekly) on Mondays.

Of course, the pay issue rears itself yet again, but until the game is more popular, women do accept that little can be done. However, that’s not the case in the USA, where the female team won the 2015 World Cup. They are in the process of suing their federation, which pays both the men and women teams, citing one of their reasons as their success has actually brought in more revenue than the men. The 2015 Women’s Final achieved the highest TV ratings for any soccer match in US history and they’re tipped to win the Olympics (which would bring their total to 5 golds). Currently though, if a women’s team win a match, they get paid less than the team that lost in a men’s game. You can see why they think they are getting an unfair deal. 


Sexism reared its ugly head in May 2016, when despite 64% voting in favour of women being allowed to play there, Muirfield in Scotland, still upheld their ban, as it fell short of the two thirds needed to pass the vote. This lead to uproar, with many top golfers condemning the decision and Muirfield subsequently lost the right to hold the Open. Now they are considering a second ballot – clearly a decision motivated by money and prestige, instead of the fact in the 21st Century we shouldn’t be having to ballot this issue in the first place!

Unfortunately, it appears such archaic attitudes are rife, as a simple Google Search for “women golfers” reveals the top articles as “20 Hottest Women of Golf” – Men’s Health, “The 9 Most Stunning Female Golfers” – FitStyleLife and “Most Beautiful Women In Golf 2016” – Golf.com. Where are the articles about their abilities or achievements?

Rio 2016 is a chance for female golfers to prove themselves. It is the first time in 112 years that Golf will be an Olympic Sport. However, many of the elite men have pulled out of the competition over fears about the Zika virus. The elite women are choosing to compete despite this, taking the opportunity with both hands to represent Golf on a global stage and get the recognition they deserve.

These are just a few examples, but the argument extends out to the media. Many female athletes make the majority of their income through sponsorships and appearing in lad’s mags, instead of making it from their sporting talent. As with a lot of male dominated sports, women get less coverage though; this affects the sponsorships they rely on, as a male sports star will be seen as more lucrative.

Competing for equality: Sportswomen’s fight for a fair playing field Subscript

Of course there are sports that reward both male and female athletes the same, even those where the tables are turned and the female stars have a larger fan base. It’s funny how you don’t see them turn around and say, “hey, I should be paid more because more people come to watch us women compete than they do men.” If you think that sounds daft, it’s because it is and it’s why Novac Djokovic got in trouble for this comment earlier this year, “the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.” His logic is flawed because not all male tennis matches attract larger audiences than female matches. What if two low seeding players happen to meet in a final, should they get paid less because they didn’t attract the same spectatorship as the previous year’s final where Djokovic played Federer? What if in that same tournament, Serena Williams was in the final, should she now be paid more because more people turned out for her match than the low seeded men’s final?

It’s a sad state of affairs that in the 21st century women are still fighting for equal pay or even the right to play a sport – some countries ban women from playing altogether. It even took until 2012 before female boxing was allowed in the Olympics. Attitudes need to change, and until they do, the competition for equality will continue off the field.