When female athletes are paid unequally – or nothing – it compounds the very clear message that they are seen as lesser: less interesting, less important, less real – and this is true in sports where it seems there is parity. Serena Williams made $11m in sponsorship deals last year – poor ol’ deprived Federer made $52m. Ask yourself why it is the men’s, and not the women’s, final that is the big closing event in tennis grand slams, or why the men’s 100m gets so much Olympics coverage and the women’s is barely acknowledged. Compare the coverage of England’s women cricketers winning the Ashes this year with the amount devoted to Kevin Pietersen’s silly book.
Heck, women weren’t even allowed to compete in various sports until recently: women’s football was banned by the FA on FA-affiliated grounds until 1971; Olympic women’s marathons were banned until 1984; and the women’s ski-jump was kept out of the Olympics until 2014. Yes, 2014 (“It seems not appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,” demurred the International Ski Federation president in 2005, clutching his handkerchief.) On Thursday Frank Warren wrote in the Independent that women shouldn’t box. On Tuesday an FA official was suspended for telling a female referee that “Your place is in the kitchen”. But remember! Sexism is not the root problem here.