Sports Business/02/16/2023

Fair play or male focus after all?

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Most people know Cristiano Ronaldo. Just like Roger Federer. But are the female counterparts to these sports superstars well-known? Rarely! The world of sports still seems to revolve around its male heroes far too often. What about the issue of equality and diversity in the sports universe? takes a look at facts and figures - and shows you how fairly the sports industry plays when it comes to men and women.

If you search Google for the soccer players with the most international goals, you'll find the name Cristiano Ronaldo seven times on the first page of results - but not a single Christine Sinclair. And when asked about the most world championship title defenses in boxing, the search engine spits out the name Joe Louis eight times - but consistently omits Regina Halmich.

These two examples show that female athletes still have a long way to go on the road to gender equality and fairness. In fact, Canada's Christine Sinclair is number one in this statistic, with 190 international goals, far ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo's 118. And against German boxer Regina Halmich's 45 title defenses, former Max Schmeling opponent Joe Louis is clearly knocked out with 27 such fights. But: It's "only" about women's soccer and women's boxing, and not about soccer and boxing.

At least that's how Google sees it, which ultimately only reflects the queries and interests of its users. The global initiative "Correct the Internet" now wants to change that. It calls for such misinformation, which exists in many sports, to be reported to search engines - and thus to ensure more balanced and fairer results on Google & Co.

Only two women in the top 50

"Correct the Internet" is just one of many global initiatives and activities that aim to advance women in sports and make them even more visible. And there is still a lot of work to be done here. Because as the website Athlete Assessments reports that in 2020, 40 percent of all top athletes were women - but only 4 percent of the coverage in newspapers, magazines and electronic media was about them. And among the 50 highest-paid female athletes in 2022, the list from Fox Sports only two women - tennis players Naomi Osaka (19th) and Serena Williams (31st).

But there are also numbers that speak to tangible progress. According to a survey According to a BBC study, women now receive the same prize money as men in 83 percent of sports. But in 17 percent of disciplines where this is not yet the case, the differences add up to millions of dollars or euros.

Even if women still have a lot of catching up to do in top-level sports, and despite some setbacks, there are numerous positive examples that prove it: Things are finally moving forward with gender equity in elite sports. tells "You can do it" stories of women who, loosely based on David Bowie, show: We can be SHEROES - and for much more than just one day.

Gender Equality at the 2024 Olympics

There is much to be said against the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - not least following the recent demand of German President Thomas Bach to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus back into the Olympics. But when it comes to gender equity, the IOC is making its mark. At the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, equal numbers of women and men are to compete for the first time. Tokyo 2021 has already set a new record with a 48 percent share of female athletes. And in And in Paris in 2024, it's more or less parity - the same city where women were first allowed to compete in the Games in 1900.

Back then, their share was still more than modest at 2.2 percent - or with 22 women among 975 men. "Today, no organization or country can afford to leave behind the skills of 50 percent of the population," it is now said by Thomas Bach. And even in the commissions of the IOC there are now 273 men - and 273 women. There may be a lot of politics and calculation behind this on the part of the Olympians (and recently also female Olympians). And the old men from Lausanne certainly didn't turn into feminists overnight. But the 2022 IOC Women's Day motto is coming to life: "If she believes it, she can be it" - "If she believes it, she can be it."

The next goal is to increase the number of female coaches at the Olympics. In 2021 in Tokyo, it was just 13 percent. A new program by the IOC aims to increase that number significantly.

Fair payment for all

"Equal Pay", the fair payment of men and women, has been one of the central demands of top female athletes for years. U.S. soccer idol, world champion and activist Megan Rapinoe gave a high-profile speech to Congress in Washington in 2021. In it, she called for fairness for female soccer players and many other concerned athletes: "You want us to fill stadiums - and we do. You want us to be role models for your children - and we are. You want us to be respectful, you want us to be world-class performers, and you want us to represent the U.S. on the international stage in the best way possible. We have done all of that. So it's unacceptable that we still have to fight for equal pay."

Bitter conclusion from Rapinoe, who already filed a court complaint for "wage discrimination" in 2016 together with four teammates: "We can't even be good enough to prevent discrimination." But progress is being made. Under a 2022 agreement, U.S. women soccer players - who are four-time World Cup champions and are far more successful than their male counterparts - will receive agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation, they will now, for the first time, receive the same win bonuses, appearance fees and shares of sponsorship and spectator revenue as the men's team, which has explicitly welcomed the historic agreement. Nationals player Tim Ream in a Tweet: "It's been a long process for all sides. But we are proud of everyone involved for achieving this goal. It really is one nation, one team now."

Even the chancellor intervened

Similar agreements for women's soccer now exist in many other countries, including pioneer Norway, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Germany, on the other hand, is still waiting before the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. In 2022, even German Chancellor Olaf Scholz "Equal Pay" for the men's and women's national teams - although the German female soccer players are currently even more interested in comparable working and training conditions. National player Svenja Huth: "We first have to create the basic structures in the league for all clubs. That refers to the infrastructure - and that the female players don't still have to work 40 hours a week."

In other sports, such as the World Surf League, equal pay for athletes has long been commonplace. Seven-time world champion Layne Beachley explainswhat this means for female athletes on a day-to-day basis. They no longer have to "buy a dozen pairs of Levi's 501s in the U.S. to sell at a spectacular profit in France" to finance their sport, as they used to. And it's no longer, "The waves suck, so send the girls out."

"Equal Pay" Does Not Always Mean "Equal Income"

In general, the female athletes and activists are not interested in always raking in the same millions as their male colleagues. After all, if Julian Nagelsmann's players at FC Bayern sold out the Allianz Arena every game and kicked in front of 75,000 fans, but the Bayern women only managed an average attendance of 2,205 in the current season, that would be presumptuous and unrealistic. In fact, it's all about fairness, as the U.S. basketball leagues NBA (men) and WNBA (women) show. By its very nature, the WNBA cannot remotely compete with the billion-dollar spectacle and earnings of LeBron James and Co. But the players demand the same share of the revenue their league generates. The NBA men have recently received 49 to 51 percent here - and the WNBA women a maximum of 22.8 percent. Distributing different incomes fairly - that's what "equal pay" is all about.

When women fly

On March 19, a world premiere will take place in winter sports: 20 years after the first ski jumping competitions for women, female jumpers will plunge from a giant flying hill for the first time. The premiere of women's ski flying will take place on the "Monsterbakken" in Vikersund, Norway. The record there is 253.5 meters, set in 2017 by Austrian Stefan Kraft. Now his teammate, world champion Sara Marita Kramer, may also jump from the world's largest hill - and try to break the unofficial women's world record of 200 meters set by Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz.

"I'm definitely a flyer," enthuses Sara Marita Kramer to the historic event - but for which some restrictions apply. Because the level in women's ski jumping is not yet top in all countries, only the top 15 in the World Cup and only jumpers over 18 are allowed on the monster bakken. "Allowing all female athletes to participate would be far too dangerous," interjects team world champion Kramer as well.

Some older men remain skeptical. Toni Innauer (64), Austrian Olympic champion in 1980, warns above all of the danger in the event of serious falls: the female jumpers are "less resistant due to the gender-specific lower proportion of muscle in the total body weight." This may be true. However, experts had already warned two decades ago, when women's ski jumping was officially introduced, that "the knee and ankle joints of female jumpers could be physiologically overstrained." Since then, the sport has developed magnificently, and in 2024 there is to be a Four Hills Tournament for women for the first time. And nothing is known of any lasting damage to the female jumpers.

The world champion maker

Women are currently causing a sensation in many areas of top-level sport where they played no role at all just a few years ago. Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen owes his 2021 and 2022 world championship titles in large part to Hannah Schmitz, the chief strategist of his Red Bull team. The Englishwoman develops the tactics for the races, plans pit stops and has to react within seconds to unforeseen events such as accidents involving other cars. Since Formula 1 was founded in 1950, this has been a job for men. Now a young woman directs the world champion to his victories.

"She is incredibly calm and simply very good," Verstappen praises his chief strategist. Hannah Schmitz became world-famous in 2019 when she was allowed onto the podium as a team representative after a victory in Brazil: "That was a very special moment and the highlight of my career. I had just returned to work after the birth of my first child. So it was a big thing for me to prove that I was still there and could do the job well."

German out in Qatar - but the referee was not to blame

When the German team failed once again in the preliminary round at the World Cup in Qatar at the end of 2022, many men were to blame - but certainly not referee Stéphanie Frappart. She was the first female referee to officiate at a men's World Cup. National coach Hansi Flick already had "100 percent confidence" in the French woman in the run-up: "She deserved it with her performance." Germany's 4:2 in the final group match against Costa Rica was not enough to advance. The Cologne Express praised the fact that Stéphanie Frappart "didn't let herself be impressed at all in a routine performance." And the fact that everyone was talking about the next German soccer disaster after the world premiere, and hardly anyone about the referee, was the best sign that female referees will be a matter of course in men's soccer in the future.

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The basketball coach who wants to go to the NBA

Former U.S. basketball player Becky Hammon is considered the greatest hope for a woman to one day coach an NBA team. In fact, she's already done it: as assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, she suddenly assumed full responsibility at the end of 2020 during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers after head coach Gregg Popovich was sent off. Currently, Hammon has returned to the WNBA women's league as coach of the Las Vegas Aces. But her dream of the NBA is alive and well. And she has made an impression. Spain's basketball legend Pau Gasol raves outright: "I've worked with the brightest minds in this sport. And I'm telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I'm not saying she can do it quite well. And I'm not saying she can coach well enough to get by reasonably. I'm not saying she's nearly as good as the male coaches in the NBA. I'm simply saying Becky Hammon can coach basketball in the NBA. Period."

The tennis coach who failed (for now)

Amélie Mauresmo had to experience that women's careers in areas of sport previously dominated by men do not necessarily lead ever higher. The Frenchwoman, former world No. 1 tennis player, became the coach of world-class Scottish player Andy Murray in 2014. A woman coaching a top male player - that was a sensation and made even a tough woman like Mauresmo not cold: "I had the impression that I had a lot of responsibility and didn't have the right to make mistakes. If I screwed up, all the women would screw up with me."

She did celebrate some success with Murray, including reaching the final at the 2015 Australian Open and winning the Madrid Open the same year. But after the birth of her first child and a few defeats, she stepped down in 2016, saying, "I don't think I fit in. People didn't respect me because I was a woman and because I had never really coached before." Andy Murray regretted the decision, saying, "I feel like she was judged harshly by a lot of people just because she was a woman. When I lost matches in the past, people questioned me, not my coach. When I worked with Amélie, it was different."

What remains as a conclusion is that there is progress in many areas that encourage women. But until they can become SHEROES as a matter of course in male-dominated sports, longer than just one day - there is still a lot to do.