Holbeck: Girl power. Is it rewarded enough?

by James Holbeck

The women’s rugby sevens team may well soon be paid the same as the Wallabies, and yes I was one.

It is not simply their top world ranking, marketability of high achieving female role models or skilled sporting execution that may well make this a reality. Although an Olympic gold medal at the Rio Olympics could help justify changes, the reasons are beyond any of these factors.

It seems to be an unlikely statement at this point in time. This however, follows a logical conclusion drawn from social trends but one that has the potential to completely backfire if not promoted in the right way.

The current socio-political push in Australia is to seek equality for all. What that looks like in the sport industry, largely run by market forces, can be difficult to imagine.

We have already seen family violence prevention campaigns using the influence of our current men and women rugby players to be mouthpieces in this fight against gender inequality.

Rhonda Rousey, the UFC fighter, was asked to weigh in on the pay dispute of our own Australian women’s soccer team back in 2015. The Matilda’s even flew on different class flights than the national men’s team.

She responded with an answer that we have historically been comfortable with but which is now under intense scrutiny. "I think how much you get paid should have something to do with how much money you bring in.”


A photo posted by rondarousey (@rondarousey) on

Rousey continued on to justify her then status, as the most highly paid fighter, by saying that her bosses were not motivated because they wanted…“to do something nice for the ladies. They do it because I bring in the highest numbers."

In the context of sport what would equality look like anyway? Maybe it is being granted the same opportunities. If it is the same wage for the same effort then taking this to its logical conclusion we may well see equal wages for all those paid by the Australian Rugby Union at the national level.

Putting gender aside for a moment, it asks of us a series of interesting questions to consider. Should all male players in the same competition be paid the same regardless of skill level, experience or some abstract market value? Should participation alone be the determining factor? Furthermore, should the men’s sevens players be paid the same amount as the Wallabies, despite playing in different competitions? Should all Wallabies be paid the same

Ellia Green makes a break against Ireland. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyMy point is that we do not have to even re-introduce gender to realize that these are not questions answered without division of opinion, perhaps even somewhat divided by political ideology. 

So are we being led in sport to follow the logic that regardless of gender, skill and commercial appeal or even which competition people play within, that all should earn the same wage? Is this what equality looks like in sport?

The women’s sevens team and their skills, tenacity and performance speaks for itself. The product, in my opinion, is inspiring to watch both live and broadcast across our televisions.

I see the current players doing things I only wish I could have done on the playing field. They display a courage and tenacity that inspires! I fear, though, if the game is simply used as a political football that we may lose people who otherwise would watch the game in its entire splendor!

They will resist because they are being told to watch it and enjoy it in the name of equality.

The Olympics will provide the perfect international promotion of our amazing world champions and rugby generally. The team and the individuals will speak volumes for the future promotion of the game in Australia.

The pages of history are very much at the hands of this team. They will finally have an attentive world stage to demonstrate the character and wondrous skill set that this group contains. The sacrifice of their efforts will finally be rewarded!

In the meantime we have a fight domestically to compete against the other football codes that are making giant steps. An introduction of an eight-team women’s AFL competition next year and the increasing exposure of women’s Rugby League speaks volumes of the benefits these codes see in promoting this relatively new commercial product. Cricket Australia has already led the way.
Chloe Dalton one of the faces to follow in Rio and beyond. Photo: Getty ImagesRugby Union can only benefit from the promotion of the Women’s Sevens program and the incredible women it is attracting. They have fought hard to be ranked the best team in the world and play a style with more subtleties than many of the international men’s teams. Will they one day earn something that reflects that status? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

By the way…the men are playing too!

James Holbeck is a former Brumbies and Wallabies centre with an Honours in Psychology. James has since earned a reputation as an insightful mentor & coach at Hope Beckons


The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.