Female rider minimum wage – moral equality

October 6, 2011

We’ve looked at the practical possibilities of minimum wages for women in cycling, but how about the moral aspect. Should men and women have equal minimum wages in pro cycling? Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? So it won’t surprised you that – unreasonable as I am – I’ll answer that with a big NO (and a small yes).

Let’s start with the small yes. I would agree that in their role as ATHLETES, they should be treated equally. If you get money just for being an athlete, you should get the same money regardless if you’re a male or female. For example, if you get money from your national olympic committee to prepare for London 2012 (as many athletes do), your gender shouldn’t matter.

In the same vain, it shouldn’t matter if you’re a rower, a ping pong player or a cyclist; if your country decides to spend tax dollars on sports in order to win medals at the olympics, it stands to reason you support all these athletes the same (if they pass the same criteria).

I don’t pretend to know all the Olympic programs in the world, but it is my impression that most national olympic committees work in this manner. Great, fantastic, equality achieved. But what the heck does this have to do with professional sports? I would argue: absolutely nothing.

Professional athletes aren’t paid to be athletes, they are paid in an economic transaction where the paying side receives a benefit that is hopefully bigger than the salary paid. The benefit could be in the form of direct revenue (ticket sales,merchandise) or indirect revenue (logo exposure or public appearances for a sponsor leading to a revenue increase for said sponsor). It has nothing to do with equality, it’s unequal in every way imaginable because it’s a simple economic transaction. A rower makes less money than a soccer player, a soccer player at Barcelona makes more than at Sporting Riga, per definition everybody gets compensated in line with the value they offer.

In some cases, a female athlete makes more than her male counterparts (I’m pretty sure the best-paid triathlete in the UK is a woman), unfortunately that’s rare. But in all cases, discussions about what people deserve are moot. Nobody deserves to be a professional athlete, there is no God-given right to turn your hobby into your job and get paid for it. It’s a privilege to find a company willing to support you to make that switch a reality. In fact, it’s also a privilege to have the tax payer support you to win some medals (or fail miserably) at the next olympics.

However, leaving it at that would be unfair to women sports. Although it is my strong belief that you cannot force sponsors to support athletes without an economic return (they will simply leave and sponsor golf or sailing instead), the same cannot be said for our sports federations.

We’ll cover that tomorrow, , so check back here or just subscribe.

8 Responses to “Female rider minimum wage – moral equality”

  1. cathy Says:

    I’m glad you made this point. It’s something that frequently comes to mind when I read reporters grumbling about there not being enough spots for the number of male riders that want to ride for teams. I’m guessing that number might approach infinity.:)
    “Nobody deserves to be a professional athlete, there is no God-given right to turn your hobby into your job and get paid for it. It’s a privilege to find a company willing to support you to make that switch a reality. In fact, it’s also a privilege to have the tax payer support you to win some medals (or fail miserably) at the next olympics”


  2. Gerard, I haven’t agreed with everything you’ve said on this subject over the last couple of days – though I have agreed with a good 90%, which is much more than I agree with most things because I’m an argumentative sod – but these missives have definitely been the most enlightening articles published on the matter since the Worlds.

  3. Ryan Says:

    You are making a common mistake of arguing morality using what just happens to be our current system of renumeration. The morality of paying men and women different amounts has nothing to do with capitalism.

    The argument you use the justify different pay scales for professional athletes also applies to olympic athletes. Olympic athletes are paid to win medals for their country. So it should be okay if athletes who win more medals should be paid more, no?


    • Fair enough but maybe we should take a step back and argue the morality of money first then. As for the olympic athletes, most NOCs use a system where the salaries paid to the athletes are the same (regardless of gender or sport), followed by bonuses for performances achieved (again equal again for gender and sport). So yes, an athlete (either gender) who performs better is paid more, not in salary but in bonuses. That said, many NOCs also have different salary levels based on past performance.

      Is that morally right or wrong or not a matter of morality at all? We can call it whatever we want, and maybe the use of the word moral is incorrect, but the point remains.

  4. Tim H Says:

    If revenue from the men’s team dwarfs revenue from the women’s team, they should be paid the same? Hell no! Men’s basketball dwarfs women’s basketball and the athletes should be paid what the team owners decide, not anyone else, especially anyone using the word “fair”.

  5. tom hewitt Says:

    In the unlikely event that a television executive has been reading the comments to the last few entries to this blog, he must be giggling. There is a fixation with extensive television coverage being the goal for cycling in general and women’s cycling in particular. Is that realistic or even sensible? Many other very popular sports have a negligible footprint on television. Pro bass fishing, for instance, pays well and might have some exposure on TV but who watches it? Professional bowling was once a mainstay of TV programming but is now practically extinct on the tube. Maybe proponents of women’s cycling should talk to some of the bowlers on the women’s pro tour and see what they have to say about the subject of compensation, although they do not belong to teams. Some very exciting and popular team sports have had a difficult time adapting to the TV paradigm, notably professional and college ice hockey. TV isn’t necessarily the answer to whatever the problem is.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Very complex, there is very little equality in and men v women’s sport, Tennis a rarity. Simple fact sponsors pay salaries based on the exposure of that team, men or women’s. Very few bike companies even cater for female cyclist (and no, having a sponsored rider say it doesn’t matter does not count as selling women’s bikes because you change the seat and bars!)


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