The Six Nations is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the average match is watched by 8 million people and the total prize fund this year is a not insignificant £16,000,000. The winner of the tournament will receive £5,000,000 with an extra million added on just for competing in the Grand Slam. Of course, these lucrative figures refer strictly to the men’s side of the competition. For the women, it is a very different story. There is no prize money.
In the midst of Storm Ciara, last weekend, Wales Women played Ireland, and lost the game 31-12. The second half was unfortunately overshadowed by torrential rain and powerful winds, as Ciara swept over the Energia Park in Donnybrook. In the post-match interviews, the players were visibly cold and soaked to their skin. The Welsh side were in no hurry to escape the rain and winds, however, by fleeing to their changing rooms, as it was cold showers that awaited them inside. Whilst Ireland Rugby has since apologised for the lack of hot water, the situation clearly demonstrates the often unfair treatment of women in rugby, and perhaps more broadly, the treatment of women in sport.
Of course, progress has been made in creating better opportunities for female athletes. In rugby, Australia have begun paying the same wage to their male and female players. World Rugby have rebranded the Rugby World Cup, removing ‘Men’s’ or ‘Women’s’ from the title. They call this, “the ultimate statement in equality”. In football, significant investment has been made into the women’s side of the game and into securing the future of the women’s game with the Wildcats programme, which offers free football coaching for girls aged 5-11 in a fun and girls-only environment. In addition, the WSL, the highest tier of English women’s football, has been made fully professional. Lewes FC are a pioneering club who have committed to total equality between their men’s and women’s team and so offer the same wage, regardless of gender. These are positive signs.
Nevertheless, there are still plenty of people who argue that we cannot ask for men and women to be paid equally whilst men’s sport often brings in so much more revenue than women’s sport. There are of course exceptions to this. In 2015, the US women’s national football team earned $20,000,000 more in profit than the men’s team. However, perhaps worryingly, recent statistics show that women’s sports receive only 0.4% of total sponsorships. Catherine Spence, 63 time capped England rugby player, suggests that this is a result of a “vicious circle of underinvestment”. This point is also raised by WNBA player, Elena Delle Donne, who states, “we absolutely do not get promoted as our male counterparts do”, as a result, “a fanbase cannot be built”.
For women's sports to generate more revenue and engage more fans, more investment must be made. This will help close the gap between the genders and allow female athletes the opportunities that they deserve to excel in professional sport.