Independent Online

Monday, August 8, 2022

Like us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterView weather by locationView market indicators

Gender Parity in Sport is - “Far From Par”

The Banyana Banyana team arrive with the trophy to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings. Picture: GCIS

The Banyana Banyana team arrive with the trophy to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings. Picture: GCIS

Published Aug 2, 2022

Share

As we enter Women’s Month in South Africa, I thought it’s only apt to share my thoughts on the gigantic gender divide in sport. And possibly why it exists.

We’ve just witnessed Banyana Banyana, our national female soccer team, crowned African Champions of football when they won the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, beating host nation Morocco in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

Story continues below Advertisement

Their head coach, Desiree Ellis, has also been awarded Women’s Coach of the Year at the Confederation of African Football Awards, days before their historic team victory.

It’s no secret that their male counterparts have fared dismally in comparison in recent years, last qualifying for the same tournament in 2019, while Banyana Banyana contested for the Cup in the 2018 final too.

So, it was understandable that many people were upset to learn of the enormous disparity in financial compensation between the male and female National football teams, especially when the women’s team clearly outperformed the men. Even our President weighed in on the matter by saying: "You deserve equal pay for equal work that you do. We need to give added remuneration to these young women who have made our country so proud. But having done so, we must then make sure that we eliminate the whole process of unequal pay out of our system."

But what does all this have to do with golf, you might say to yourself?

For decades, women have had separate tournaments alongside their male counterparts – for far less prize money. Why though? Why are women playing the same sport as men getting paid less? Well, you see, they don’t attract large enough audiences to Live games or ones broadcast on television/streaming platforms, some proponents of the status quo will say. And that’s why it is what it is.

Did you know then that in 1920, a women’s club soccer game was played at Goodison Park, Everton’s home ground? It’s reported that more than 50 000 fans were inside the stadium, with a further 12 000 or so unable to get inside.

Story continues below Advertisement

It’s been recorded that women’s soccer became so popular after WW1 it seemingly threatened men’s soccer. At least that’s what the Football Association (FA) at the time believed, and less than a year later, they duly banned women’s soccer from being played at professional soccer grounds – astonishing, isn’t it?

The FA at the time ruled on 5 December 1921: “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. The ban unjustly endured for 50 years until it was repealed in 1971, with an apology coming from the FA only in 2008.

More recently, we can turn to the attendance register of the 2022 Women’s Euro Championship held at Wembley Stadium, with nearly 90 000 fans showing up for their heroines. So, the argument that people won’t pitch up to watch women’s sport (Live or online) can be duly rejected on this basis.

Story continues below Advertisement

The fact that subsequent audiences for female sports dwindled is instead the result of a social construct by bodies or groups of men who felt threatened by the rise in popularity of women’s sports.

I can confidently say that I watch women’s golf as much as men. I see no superiority of the one over the other. Statistically, though, it appears that there is because the World #1 female golfer Jin Young Ko of Korea has a fractionally better scoring average than Scottie Scheffler, the World #1 men’s golfer.

Here's the kicker though: Jin Young’s scoring average over a four-year period is better than Scotties for the last year, a year in which he has been red-hot, winning no less than four tournaments, including a Major at Augusta.

Story continues below Advertisement

So, while watching the French Grand Prix last week, I was thinking that there isn’t a Formula One series for women, and a man is not an inherently better driver than a woman. And a man’s genetic make-up doesn’t present him with an unfair physical advantage over a female counterpart. And it’s already such an exclusive sport with only 20 seats on offer each season. So, why can’t they race in the same championship series alongside men?

And by extension, why can’t this also be so in golf? Granted, there is a clear physical advantage to men who hit the ball further. But this is mitigated by women using forward tees. For those who don’t know, the forward tees are quite simply tee boxes that are located closer to the green than where men tee off from. And not by much, mind you. From my experience, it’s often less than 20 meters closer than the men’s.

I get that there are some mixed events where men and women pair up and compete against other mixed pairs. But those are exhibition-type events. Not the kind with the big purses men usually compete against one another for.

An example of what I’m referring to happened just a few months ago, as we recorded history when female golfer Linn Grant did, in fact, win the DP World Tour Scandinavian Mixed in front of a home crowd in Sweden. A proper professional golf tournament contested by men and women against one another. And Linn became the first woman ever to win on the DP World Tour (formerly known as the European Tour).

Before I get into my motivation for more events like the Scandinavian Mixed, it’s worth mentioning that Muirfield, one of the most legendary golf establishments in the sports’ history, whose heritage dates back to 1744, is about to host the AIG Women’s Open for the first time later this week, only allowed women to become members at their club for the first time in 2019! Shocking! This is how much work we still have to do in this regard.

Back to the actual matter on my mind, wanting to see more mixed golf events. More specifically, mixed events that form part of the PGA and DP World Tours. And most recently, the LIV Golf Invitational. I’m calling for a complete merger of male and female professional golf in which they compete head-to-head for world ranking points, prize money, and the prestige of being not the best male or female golfer in the world – but rather the best golfer in the world – PERIOD!

When we compare the stats of the best male and female golfers (average driving distance aside), percentage GIR’s, bogey-free rounds, consecutive sub-70 rounds, putting average, fairways hit – the women are right in it and better at it in most instances.

Is this intentional gender division then another cowardly mechanism to protect the egos of a few fragile men? Are they afraid that, in this merged tournament framework, women will start winning “their” prize money?

Or is the prospect of being outranked by women an unfathomable reality to accept?

Perhaps I’m just a silly idealist, but I think a fusion of men’s and women’s leagues/tours (where practical) will serve to not only grow audiences but the respective sports too.

I’ve read many a rumour and speculation about LIV Golf starting a women’s series of events too in 2023. If true, I am stoked about the massive boost in prize money this will open for women golfers. But instead of a parallel women’s series, I’d much rather see the existing format change, to simply include women too.

IOL

Follow Jehad’s Far From Par series on IOL.

Far From Par is a series about the grassroots development of golf in South Africa. For decades golf was a sport reserved for white men for both leisure and professional expression.

Sadly, after nearly 30 years of democracy, apart from it now being open to all, not much has changed to foster meaningful transformation.

This series explores his experience on the importance of, challenges faced, and status quo of grassroots golf development and transformation in South Africa.

Follow me on Instagram @far_frompar and visit www.mpgc.org.za for golf development information. Contact Jehad on +27 723654037 or [email protected] | @mitchellsplain_golfclub on Instagram.

Share