Too Much "Wear and Tear": Female Athletes Push Too Hard To Earn A Living

"Circling the globe to play all year round, the wear and tear on the body, it is high risk."

The World Surf League (WSL) is paving the way for equal pay among male and female athletes, this week announcing equal prize money for all winners at all levels from 2019.

But it's still a sporting rarity, as most professional female athletes continue to earn considerably less than their Y-chromosome counterparts.  So much so, that some women travel the globe playing across multiple season tournaments to make a decent living.

The WSL was barreled into the spotlight in June, after the Under-18s winners of the Ballito Pro were pictured with their cheques -- and fans were quick to point out the disparity in prize money.

Zoe Steyn won ZAR4000 ($400AUD), half the amount the men's winner Rio Waida took home -- for surfing the same waves.

The difference in physicality between men and women is no longer an argument for equal pay, said Associate Professor Kevin Netto from Curtin University's school of Exercise Sport and Rehabilitation Science.

Netto's research showed that women must work harder to achieve the same results as men because of the inherent differences in physiology.

"Women's sport isn't less attractive, it's just different," he told ten daily.

But as the WSL imminent pay rise shows, there is a changing view of women's pay, but it doesn't go far enough, said Emeritus Professor David Rowe from Western Sydney University, who has written extensively in the area of sport, culture and the media.

READ MORE: It's Time For World Surfing To Ride The Gender Equality Wave

READ MORE: What Women Have To Tackle For A Career In Sport

"In broad terms, the bridge is closing, but only at a low base. There is still a huge distance to go," he told ten daily.

This weekend, both men and women champions at the US Open will walk away with the same prize money, receiving a cool $5,345,000AUD each.

Tennis Grand Slams were one of the first to introduce equal pay back in 2007, and was a "big change" for the sport said Rowe.

"These changes are connected with strong lobby groups to bridge the gap," he said.

Tennis-royalty Venus Williams lobbied the All England Tennis Club for equal prize money, and she became the first female athlete to receive the same prize money as the men at the 2007 Wimbledon.

Venus Williams won her fourth Wimbledon title in 2007, and became the first women to be paid the same as the men's winner at a Grand Slam. Image: Getty Images

In Australia, lobbying by the Australian Women's Cricket Team in 2017 saw them reach a landmark pay agreement with Cricket Australia.

At the time, the Southern Stars were the number one ranked team in the world.

The pay deal meant minimum international retainers doubled from $19,000 to $40,000, and the highest-ranked players now earn a base of $65,000. Added with domestic contracts this number could reach $100,000 before sponsorship and endorsements.

The Australian team celebrate with the trophy on the podium after winning the Final of the ICC Women's World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014. Image: Getty Images

"It's enough money per annum to live on, but not handsomely," Rowe said of the pay deal.

But while this was a minor win for women, it must be remembered the men's base salary starts at $278,000.

The Matildas, arguably one of Australia's most successful teams in recent history, were at the centre of their own pay disputes in 2015, when it was revealed each player received just $500 per match, compared to the Socceroos who receive $7500 -- 15 times more.

The Matildas lift the trophy as champions at the 2017 Tournament of Nations. Image: Getty Images

Rowe said pay is so low in the domestic leagues, female footballers play year-round for multiple clubs, which he believes is "dangerous".

"Circling the globe to play all year round, the wear and tear on the body, it is high risk," he said.

Australian Sam Kerr may be short-listed for FIFA Women's Player of The Year, but like so many others, she splits her time between playing in Australia and overseas.

The US women's national soccer team made international headlines in 2016 when they brought legal action against the US Soccer Federation for pay discrimination.

The issue was first highlighted in 2015, after the U.S. won the Women's World Cup, after it was revealed the team shared $2.81 million (AUD) in prize money -- compared to the $12.7 million (AUD) the U.S. Men's team received after being KNOCKED OUT of the World Cup in the first round.

It has been argued that women's sport doesn't garner as much interest or revenue as men's sport.

However, Associate Professor Kevin Netto said this was now a moot point as female sport becomes more accessible, and change to female athlete's pay should take place.

"If we don't have any affirmative action, nothing will change," he said.

Contact the author at jdunne@networkten.com

Featured Image: Getty Images