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Gender discrimination in sports sponsorship?: women netballers missing the gravy train [The Fiji Times, 29 May 2005]


 Are netballers commercially and politically slow when it comes to getting money for themselves?

A few weeks ago, there was a big hooh hah when a woman Government CEO (but not for Sport) set aside some of her valuable allocations to help women netballers.

It was probably not appropriate to re-allocate funds from her ministry (which is usually desperately in need of funds for the destitute).  But the women netballers were surprisingly defensive about the small funds they received.

There were some letters to the editors of papers.  But no strong arguments, backed up by hard facts which would drive the point home to Government and sports sponsors in the country the hard fact:  women and netballers in particular simply do not get their fair share of sports resources.

And it is paradoxical that netballers and women still do not see their enormous latent power in obtaining their fair share of funds for  sports.

While they may be exercising their netball muscles, they are not flexing their economic and political muscles.

Women’s unfair share

   You don’t need a Masters or PhD thesis to prove that women are not getting their fair share of the resources for sports.

Just think of  the thousands of acres of land devoted to men’s rugby and soccer.  And look at the acres (or should one say square meters) of land devoted to women’s netball- the major women’s sport inFiji.  Think of the physical assets and staff associated with rugby and soccer, and that associated with netball.

Think of the government funds annually made available for men’s sports and that for women’s netball.

Think of the sponsorship money annually provided by the corporate sector for men’s sports.

There is simply no comparison is there?   But it would be useful if the hard facts were made so visible that the financial decision-makers would be embarrassed.

Fiji is full of women’s organisations, women economists, accountants, businesswomen, and other corporate women who are rightly complaining about and giving data on the lack of women involvement in the economy, politics, and leadership.

But there is no data and no empirical study, quantifying clearly, highlighting to the public in simple language, the totally unfair deal that sportswomen (and netballers) get when it comes to their funding. If there is any data, it is hidden away out of sight, gathering dust.

How much money and effort would it take to document the national funding discrimination against netballers and publicise the findings?

Why unfair Government funding?

   Without any doubt, women do their fair share of work in this country –  probably more, given that in general, men waste relatively more time on sports (hah hah), kava and booze.

Women therefore directly or indirectly contribute their fair share (or more) of the taxes of the country.  But do women get their fair share of government spending?

Some years ago,  at a regional women parliamentarians’ conference organised by UNIFEM, I gave a paper with the fancy title “engendering government’s budget”.

Put simply, did women get their fair share of the benefits of government expenditure?  In employment, wages and salaries, and in the areas of spcific interest to them?

The paper recommended that women should demand that the annual budget document should have a rough break-down of the proportions of the government allocation (both capital and recurrent) that went to men alone, to women alone and to both genders.  And desirable targets set and monitored over time.

In some ministries, this break-down would  have been difficult to calculate.  But in others, such as sports, such a break-down was quite feasible.

Well, the women parliamentarians (including those fromFiji) did what parliamentarians generally do at these regional meetings in a tourist town like Nadi.  And then they disappeared from the radar, as do most participants at these perennial donor-funded regional talk, eat, drink, and dance-fests.

I doubt if today there is any gender break-down of government expenditure, for any ministry inFiji, let alone sports.

Why don’t women’s organisations and sportswomen in particular, agitate for the gender break-downANDtheir fair share in the 2006 Government budgetary allocation for sports?

Can netballers take advantage of the Constitutional provision for “disadvantaged groups” who are eligible for Affirmative Action by Government? (hey, disadvantaged groups are defined not just be race alone).

And what about Government giving a tax break (200 percent deduction) for donations to women’s sports – similar to what Government did with respect to the last South Pacific Games (except that the minimum corporate donation should be much lower – say $1000).

Note that this year’s November budget will be the last one before the 2006 Elections? Remember that women, being a half of the voters, are the largest potential voting block in the country – bigger than any of the political parties.   And all politicians will want women’s votes.

Would it help if every candidate was pressured into including equal sports funding for women as part of their electoral promises?  And why not approach different political parties and get specific commitments from them?  Nothing like a bit of competition amongst parties, is there?

The paradox of poor corporate funding

   Are netballers aware of their own market power, and the demands they can make on the corporate sector?

They need to ask themselves: who are the major corporate sponsors of men sports?  What products do they sell?  And do women have any influence over the purchase of these products?  Surely women do not have to think very hard on this?

Think of the flour company that throws hundreds of thousands of dollars at men’s sports.  But who buys flour and atta for cakes, bread, and roti?  Who usually goes to the super-market and makes decisions on the brand of biscuits to buy?  Women, of course.

Who goes to the super-markets to do the shopping?  Who in the families usually plan the saving, borrowing of home loans and taking out of life insurances?  Who decides on the kinds of houses to buy or build and the interior fittings and furnishings to have?  Indeed, don’t women have a large say in where the family’s expenditure dollar goes?

So why is there this paradox that the bulk of sports funding from flour milling, biscuit producing, cooking gas, supermarkets, hardware merchants, banks, insurance and home finance companies go largely to men’s sports, not to women?

Of course there are more people watching men sports on TV etc.  But note the vicious circle.  Give no money to women’s sports; these sports stay small; the media does not cover these events; there is no TV or radio audience; there are no advertisements; and no corporate sponsors of these sports.

Can women flex their commercial muscles?

   Decision-makers on corporate sponsorships are largely men.  They are no doubt happy to use the wiggling and jiggling of pleasant parts of the female anatomy to sell their products through their advertisements.  But that has not brought the required funds to women’s sports and netballers in particular (although women golfers seem to do very well – hmmm I wonder why?).

Netballers should think seriously about flexing their commercial and business muscles, and kicking a few corporate butts. Netballers need to be like Xena.  And get the help of all our national women’s organizations  and the aggressive women who appear weekly in the news.

Women netballers can think about threats of national boycotts of unsympathetic corporate sponsors?

What about the threat of giving votes only to political parties who give equal support to netball and women’s sports?

And mothers special needs?

   Health experts point out that it is important for women to maintain their sports activities, especially after child-birth.  But do our netball facilities around the country encourage that?

Why is it that basketball courts are nearly always under shelter, often in good indoor facilities, and available 24 hours; while netball, a sport similar to basketball, is nearly always in the open, exposed to sun and rain, and hardly ever flood-lit?

Is it that netball is virtually a sport of the poorer women?  While basketball (like women’s golf) has the support of more affluent subgroups in the community?

When netball eventually gets its fair share of sports funds, their administrators could ensure that their facilities are covered, all-weather and playable at night. They could also ensure that the courts have ancillary facilities to encourage young mothers to take part in sport.

One useful and necessary addition to the netball courts would be a properly fenced, all weather child playground facility, so that mothers can bring their young children with them.  And what about proper hygienic food and drink kiosks and clean toilets associated with every netball courts?

Stand up for your rights

   Fighting for sports funding is like any other battle in the Darwinian jungle: the strong succeed and the weak miss out.  Netballers have to  “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights”  as Bob Marley once sang about the weak and oppressed.

Women netballers do not need to beg for any special favours and the piddling sums that won’t even pay for one rugby or soccer coach.

They just need to get their fair share of sports funding from Government and corporate sponsors.

So far the women are missing the sports gravy train.

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