Sports Minister Sussan Ley and ASC chief John Wylie have written to Australia’s top 30 funded sporting organisations to inform them of a new policy mandating that male and female athletes are afforded the same conditions when travelling to and from senior major championship events.
The pair wrote that there was “no defensible reason why any sport should practice policies that mean male and female athletes travel in different classes to, or stay in different standard accommodation”, and described it as a “small but significant step” towards great equality.
The move follows outcry in 2015 over unequal pay and conditions for women’s teams including The Matildas and The Opals, who were flown economy to the London Olympics while the Australian men’s basketball team travelled business class.
Wylie said the move was “long overdue and entirely appropriate”.
“We think it’s important not only financially but also symbolically,” he said. “It’s something that will make a practical difference to our elite female athletes.”
“This is part of an overall program that we’re driving to try and get a better deal for our elite female athletes across a range of fronts at the moment, but it’s one step at a time.”
Sporting codes will be expected to implement a gender neutral travel policy as a condition of receiving millions of dollars in ASC funding. Ley acknowledged “complexities” in travel arrangements, particularly with sponsored travel, and said the rollout would be a “consultative process”.
The move was welcomed by athletes and peak bodies including the Professional Footballers’ Association, who said it was “long overdue and an important step forward in addressing the issue of gender equality” in sport.
“The universal values of sport, which are so celebrated, have not been afforded to Australia’s most talented sportswomen,” said PFA player relations executive Kathryn Gill.
“They have consistently been treated as second-class citizens, instead of the world-class athletes they are.”
Gill said uniform travel standards would ensure a “high performance workplace that is fundamental for even greater success on the world stage” for Australia’s elite female footballers, vowing that they would continue to “light the way forward” or gender equality.
Surfing legend Layne Beachley said she had experienced a huge gulf in prize money, endorsements and other opportunities in her time on the pro circuit, but things were starting to shift.
“Now we are seeing that gap narrow. It will take time but it starts with education, awareness, and someone taking a stance and saying this is unacceptable, we need to change it,” Beachley told ABC News 24.
Wylie described 2015 as a “breakthrough year for female sport in Australia” but it would come down to translating that into dollars, with less than 10% of all commercial sponsorship going to women’s sport.
“We do recognise that these sports live in a market economy so there are obviously the commercial facts of life,” he said, describing it as a “chicken and egg” conundrum.
“It’s encouraging that the broadcasters are giving women’s sport more exposure, that’s a very important step because obviously you need to get the visibility for these sports in order to get the commercial support.”
In their letter to sporting groups, Ley and Wylie said they had written to the chairs of Australia’s top 100 companies urging them to get on board “not as a public service but out of commercial self-interest”. The response had been “encouraging”, they wrote.
Asked why they had not prioritised equal pay over the less substantive issue of travel conditions, Ley said it was a question of economics.
“The key driver for ultimately achieving better pay equity for female athletes is promoting and improving wider media coverage and corporate sponsorship, and this is something we are continuing to drive.”
Wylie acknowledged that progress “varies” on the issue of pay parity but he was optimistic.
“Most if not all (codes) are strongly committed to promoting women’s sport and women in their sport and female support of their sport. So it’s starting to happen,” he said.
“As the good news of Australian women’s sport is better understood and better broadcast and they get more exposure, there will better deals on offer for our elite female athletes.”