Yesterday, Twitter reacted very strongly to a recent Billabong Junior Surf Comp giving female winner Zoë Steyn exactly half the prize money of male winner Rio Waida. After reaching out to Billabong for a response, we were only sent a link to this official statement from the World Surfing League (WSL), which imo explains absolutely nothing.
The issue raised with regards to the Billabong Ballito Pro Junior stemmed from a pay parity execution based on original 32-man and 16-woman fields. However, withdrawals from the men’s event left a 24-man field (withdrawals saw only 14 ultimately compete on the women’s side) and a subsequent pay disparity between the two events.
The wording of this is by no means straightforward. Yes, it’s standard to have an entry fee to competitions, in a lot of sports, not just surfing. It also makes sense that competitors don’t get their fee back if they pull out of the event. But are the WSL trying to say that this entry fee is making up the entirety of the prize pool?
It seems unlikely. Isn’t the point of having sponsors like Billabong to provide things like prize money to make the competition more accessible and worthwhile to the professional competitors?
Speaking to the ABC’s Hack, WSL Australia/Oceania Regional Manager Will Hayden-Smith made further comment suggesting it’s all down to numbers.
“Men get double the prize money only because there are double the competitors. It highlights an issue, but it’s a very complicated one.”
For the complicated issue to be solved, one of two options needs to be taken. The first is to scrap a system that inherently places less value on the skills of females. Professional surfers are awarded points for catching each wave, based on the type of wave, any interference of other surfers, etc. So then shouldn’t people surfing the same waves be scored in the same way and therefore be awarded the same amount for winning scores?
The other option is to increase the number of female competitors. But how is that supposed to happen if women are constantly facing significantly lower pay for surfing the exact same ocean that has the exact same waves no matter who is out there surfing them? Women are facing all the same expenses to get to the competition with a constantly smaller payback.
It appears that the WSL aren’t interested in either possible solution anyway.
“The demand is simply not there,” Hayden-Smith said, “We usually have a waiting list of about four surfers to get into the women’s competition. On the men’s side, we have about 30-40 on the waiting list. If the demand was there on the women’s side we would expand the draws.“
Surely for as long as we keep trying to claim that fewer numbers (or the even more ridiculous yet constant claim of females being ‘less of a media drawcard’) are a legitimate reason to not give equal winnings to both genders then we are ensuring that we keep it this way.
Without investing just as much into the female side of all sports, how can they be expected to compete on the same platform when they are given fewer resources?