Football

The problem with equality for NZ footballers

The true cost of the right to turn left is staggering, writes Steve Deane

COMMENT: Even when they are exactly the same, things are seldom equal. And being equal doesn’t necessarily make things fair. That’s the problem with the outwardly-meritorious, inwardly-questionable demand by the New Zealand Professional Footballers’ Association for equal terms and conditions for male and female senior representative players.

For starters, men and women already receive the same daily payment when on duty for the All Whites and Football Ferns – reportedly $115.

That’s around the amount Winston Reid likely tips the attendant as he drives his Bentley out of the London Stadium carpark. It’s also near enough half a day’s work for the part-time teachers, social workers, baristas and professional women’s players scrambling to survive while making up the core of the Football Ferns' starting line-up and the far end of the All Whites’ bench.

It’s a tiny amount of money for some, an utterly inconsequential amount for others, regardless of gender.

It’s pitiful, but nonetheless equal.

The NZPFA’s battle for equality, then, isn’t about money. The push on behalf of its female members is for equal terms and conditions – primarily an upgrade at the airport, and presumably at the hotel.

As it stands, the All Whites fly long-haul business class. The Football Ferns don’t.

Yes, that is clearly a discrimination based on gender. But it’s also one based on commercial realities. There is no way the likes of West Ham and Burnley – or any medium-sized professional football entity – would allow its multi-million dollar assets to fly cattle class across the globe, putting them at risk of DVT and awkward conversation.

If it wants them on the field, New Zealand Football has no choice but to seat its elite male players at the front of the plane. But it can’t afford to do so with its elite women’s players. Not with its own money, anyway. It doesn’t have any.

In a perfect world no elite sportswoman should have to suffer the humiliation that comes with not having priority check-in. But if it’s any consolation to them, the vast majority of the working world has never flown business class either (this column included).

It sucks, but that’s life. And accountancy.

The question is not whether men and women should enjoy the same conditions when representing their country. Of course they should. The question is whether the cost of that equality is justifiable, or even desirable, when it might well be counter-productive.

The commercial reality of men’s and women’s international football for New Zealand is that the games they play lose a truckload of money for NZF every year. A quick scan of the latest annual report shows that competitions and events brought in $1,069,000 in 2016. The cost of those events was $5,923,000.

While it’s not clear how much of that $4.85 million deficit was down to the activities of the senior national teams (and the Football Ferns in particular) a good chuck of it will have been. It says so in the report.

“New Zealand Football’s expenditure through the business was increased due to a decision by the Executive Committee to invest in New Zealand Football’s High Performance Programme with increased international activity costs for the Football Ferns’ participation at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, increased activity for the All Whites on the Road to Russia 2018 and female age-group competitions.”

There’s a good reason the NZPFA isn’t following the traditional sports union pathway of demanding a direct share of resulted revenue for its members – playing for their country would cost its members a fortune.

The fact is our Football Ferns and All Whites are highly subsidised. New Zealand Football generates its revenue through sponsorships and grants, levies and ‘other income’, which will almost certainly include a nice chunk of change from the TAB, passed on from gamblers who wager on football.

In 2015 and 2016, those grants included $1.3 million of taxpayer money via High Performance Sport New Zealand to assist with the Football Ferns’ Olympics campaign.

Levies, which tip in close to $1.6 million a year, essentially come from grassroots players via registration fees.

If you play football or have a child who plays, you’re helping to fund NZF’s high performance programme. (This year, NZF budgeted to spend $7.1 million dollars on developing the community game and $5.5 million on its high performance programme.)

Yes, gender equality is important. But the international check-in counter is a dubious battleground indeed.

The question is not whether men and women should enjoy the same conditions when representing their country. Of course they should.

The question is whether the cost of that equality is justifiable, or even desirable, when it might well be counter-productive.

Given the massive increased cost of international business class travel, it’s entirely feasible that NZF would opt to dispatch the Football Ferns overseas less often, reducing the opportunities for our elite female players.

For example, if NZF were to dispatch a squad of 30 players and staff to Los Angeles tomorrow, the cost of flying them economy would be $27,120. The cost of sending them business class would be $188,520.

The total increase for the return trip would be $322,800. For an organisation with annual revenues of just over $12 million, such an increase would be crippling.

To put that figure in perspective, the increase in flight costs for that one trip would have gobbled up over 60 percent of HPSNZ’s taxpayer funding of the Football Ferns Olympics campaign preparations in 2015.

Money that is spent upgrading the flights of female players so that they enjoy the same privileges considered mandatory for the captain of West Ham is money that won't be spent elsewhere – on things such as improved coaching, support and opportunities to gain experience through playing matches overseas.

Yes, gender equality is important. But the international check-in counter is a dubious battleground indeed.

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