The wage gap between male and female athletes has never been more apparent than in South African rugby, and no one seems to care. While male players can reportedly earn R35 000 a month at provincial level, the R60 to R150 a game for women rugby players, with some teams not paid a single cent, makes the disparity look particularly egregious.
This is according to the numerous female provincial rugby players from various teams who spoke to the Saturday Star this week. While they’ve been happy to show proof of their tiny stipends – if they’ve received any at all – none are able to go on the record about the pay issue. “The women who tried to make a noise about it in the past have been kicked off the team. Those of us who are passionate about playing can’t take that risk,” one of the players said. They’re not demanding equal pay, they say, but just some way to supplement the income from their day jobs to be able to afford to practise more and to become better.
“How can they expect us to play better, to get to the same level as the men’s teams if some players can’t afford transport to come to practise?” “When they cancel training camps, when the practises are so limited, there’s no way to bring us up to the level of the men’s teams,” another player said this week.
The cycle seemingly prevents the female sides from improving, giving their respective unions an excuse to restrict or cut off any payment. “It would be wonderful to be paid for doing what you love, but most women players are underrated or ignored, so you start to get used to it,” another player said.
Captain Libbie Janse van Rensburg is one of the most experienced players in the Tuks team. Photo: Reg Caldecott
According to that same player, for injuries sustained during training or a game, it was up to the players to pay the medical bills, unlike their male counterparts.
In 2016, Media24 reported on the SA Rugby Union (Saru) providing lucrative contracts to attract provincial players, with Southern Kings junior players offered R35 000 per month. The year prior, Saru announced it was encouraging more professional male players to see out their careers in South Africa, increasing funding from R25 million to R90m a year. While questions were sent to Saru about its spending model, the questions were not all answered, though a statement was provided.
It read: “South African rugby is excited and committed to the challenge of growing women’s rugby in this country. It is a major focus of the world game and globally there has been an explosion in the interest in the women’s rugby. “We started late in South Africa: the first women’s Test did not take place until 2004 when other countries have been playing the sport among women for decades.
“To date we have played only a handful of Tests with amateur players although we established a professional women’s Sevens squad in 2015.
“They are housed and trained in the same facility as the Blitzboks in Stellenbosch but play fewer fixtures and have not yet qualified to be part of the Women’s Sevens World Series.
“Our major challenge is the relatively small number of female players from which we can choose but we have addressed this by creating Under-16 and Under-18 competitions as well as establishing youth training centres around the country where female players can train and be upskilled. “Only once we have reached a critical mass of female players, will we be able to think of professionalising the women’s provincial game,” Saru said in the statement.
In a follow-up query, a Saru spokesperson said the R90m budget was for funds paid to players’ association, and that each of the specific team unions were responsible for their salary payments. The spokesperson could not say what the exact amounts were dedicated to player salaries.
Women get a pittance to be in the scrum
It isn’t just the local rugby scene where female players aren’t compensated for their skills. In 2016, the SA Women’s Hockey team revealed it received no salary to represent the country in the World Cup.
Irene Otieno in action for the Kenya women's Sevens tam against France. Photo: Armando Barbani/EPA
Meanwhile, in 2014, the gender wage gap between the national soccer teams was revealed in Parliament. Banyana Banyana players earned between R2000 and R5000 a game while Bafana Bafana players earned R60000 a win and R30000 for a draw. The Proteas' women’s team players also reportedly earned between R7000 and R10000 a Test match while the Proteas' men’s team players earned R46000 a Test match and an additional R34000 bonus for winning a Test match.