Embracing equity in the sports industry | Dentons
There have been countless achievements by women athletes in the UK in recent years. England footballers won the UEFA European Women’s Championship and England’s rugby team, currently ranked number one women’s team in the world, reached the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup. These achievements have brought much more attention to women’s sport, but steps still need to be taken to create a better (and more equal) environment for women employed in sport. In this article, we look at two recent labor law developments in women’s sport.
Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) new maternity, pregnancy and adoption leave policy has been hailed as a significant step forward normalizing parenthood in professional sport.
Under the policy:
- Players who are pregnant receive increased job security. If a player has a contract and contracts are renegotiated or renewed while she is pregnant or on maternity leave, her contract will be extended for at least 12 months;
- Players are now entitled to 26 weeks of fully paid maternity leave;
- Players selected within 12 months of the birth or adoption of a child are now eligible for funding to cover the travel and accommodation costs of children under 12 months and a companion to accompany them to matches or training camps;
- the RFU pays for specialist physiotherapists to examine players before and after birth so that players’ needs to support their recovery can be assessed; And
- Pregnant players have the opportunity to undertake a risk assessment to determine other roles they may play in rugby until the start of their maternity leave.
Compared to other sports in the UK, the England and Wales Cricket Board guarantees full wages to female players for the first 13 weeks after birth and provides 90% of full wages to players for the 20 weeks following those 13 weeks.
For football, too, the Football Association and the Association of Professional Footballers recently announced a landmark agreement. There will no longer be a minimum length of service to qualify for the maternity scheme, under which players in the top two tiers of women’s football in England who go on maternity leave will be paid 100% of their weekly wages, including all other allowances and benefits, for the first 14 weeks of maternity leave.
The RFU’s policy is particularly beneficial as World Rugby guidelines state that pregnant women should not play or coach and this policy allows players to take on alternative roles during pregnancy. The first point of the new directive is the one that really stands out. Some of the biggest insecurities as a professional athlete are the insecurities that come from constant contract negotiations, fixed-term contracts (usually, women’s football contracts are much shorter than men’s football), and a lack of career length. These factors can discourage women from having children until their sporting career is over, fearing it will affect contract negotiations. The job security that the new policy will create will reduce some of the barriers for women to starting a family during their sporting careers. The added job security provided by the policy also helps create an environment that makes family life more inclusive and normalizes parenting in sport.
to raise a salary
According to the latest published reports, Arsenal Women Football Club has increased players’ salaries by almost 30%. While this is a big step forward for women’s football, the problem of the huge salary gap compared to men’s football remains. It is well known that the salaries of male soccer players reflect the income generated by the sport through sponsorships, television contracts and the sale of tickets to attend matches. Arsenal’s women’s team has seen a 62% increase in revenue since a new broadcast deal was agreed between the Women’s Super League, the BBC and Sky. After four games were played at the Emirates Stadium last season, matchday revenue has also increased.
It cannot be overlooked that in all industries, not just sports, revenue is usually the driving factor in determining employee salaries. These statistics show that investing in televising women’s sport and hosting women’s sport in larger venues can result in significant returns on investment, which in turn can be used to increase player salaries. In fact, following England’s victory at the European Championships this season, Arsenal have played games for which more than 50,000 tickets have been sold, compared to just over 10,000 tickets last season. With the increasing interest in women’s sports, there are great opportunities that are being seized by employers, which in turn translates into much better pay for women players.
Top athletes often have a mentality of always moving forward and always improving. Employers should adopt the same mindset, not only to promote equality, but also to keep up with the uptick in women’s sport, which can bring some financial rewards. As the case studies show, investing in the visibility of women’s sport can prove beneficial not only for employees but also for employers’ revenues. A win-win situation that only can evolve the sporting landscape and keep talented female athletes in their roles.
Improving maternity policies also helps encourage talented female athletes to stay in their roles or return to their roles after pregnancy. This not only benefits employees, but also a very positive public image for employers who are really committed to normalizing family life in sport.
Employers could also go beyond the guidelines by offering female athletes more flexibility and opportunities to balance family life with work, such as B. Assistance with childcare or flexibility in specific times for training and recovery sessions where possible.