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Equal Pay For Women Athletes: Elite Prize Purses

posted by Salty, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Monday, November 12, 2012 at 3:40pm EST

About Salty:

Salty Running is a collaborative women's running blog with a wide variety of runner/writers from all over North America ranging from beginners to veteran ultr...more

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Salty Running's PepperThis post originally published on SaltyRunning.com on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 and authored by Pepper. About her: "I'm an environmental consultant 9-5 and wannabe local elite runner every other hour of the day. Life is never boring and I trend toward the more outrageous side of life in and outside of running. Who says you can't be fast and ridiculous at the same time?"



Equal Pay: The Radical Notion That Women Are P...It's Election Day, and at Salty Running we're a binder full of opinionated spicy women! And this spicy lady would like to talk about equal pay. Now that the election is almost over though, I don't want to get into the candidates' opinions on equal pay for women in the work force, I want to talk about the dynamics of elite prize purses for professional running and triathlon.

My boyfriend and I were tracking a friend this weekend who raced Ironman Florida. We were chatting about the race and the elite fields as we waited with a bunch of my running gal pals (including Salty!) for tables at a local diner, when my boyfriend made me do a double take. He went from talking about the elite fields to an argument that the women should not have the same prize purse as the men in this event. What!?

Now before you start making picket signs, he had a rationale for his argument: Field size. He was adamant that because there were 39 male pros and only 19 female pros that the top 5 women should split a prize purse smaller than the top five men. Seeing as we were out to breakfast with 12 other women, I could not believe he chose that moment to strongly argue this rationale. Essentially the pro women deserved less money because more men had chosen to race.

 

Elite women's race

You better believe these ladies have worked every bit as hard as any male runner to get to this point! (Photo credit: Stuart Grout)

 

We talked more about this all weekend and I still don't agree. But this is a common debate in professional triathlons and marathons. IronMan has tried different methods to "even" the playing field, even at one point only awarding prize money for those within eight percent of the winning time. For pros racing the likes of Chrissie Wellington this could mean no paycheck, even after an outstanding day (Chrissie has dominated the IM field racing world record times and finishing far ahead of her competitors in recent years.)  The 8% rule was extraordinarily unpopular, protested heavily, and eventually expired.  The depth of talent at the top level of marathoning is similar. No women have come close to Paula Radcliffe's world record and most major marathons have more elite men than elite women in the race.

On a local level, my cyclocross experience has been that women are usually not awarded any prize money at all because their field tends to be so drastically  smaller than the men's. Is this really fair? Should the women get less--or nothing--just because there are fewer women racing?

Should events treat prize money or even age group awards as a reward based on the percentage of people who showed up to race? IM does this with awards for its Kona race; every age group gets a slot for the winner, but from there extra slots are awarded based on the depth of the field. Perhaps this could be done for prize money, too.  But wouldn't you hate to be that 4th place woman whose bad luck it was that a few pros dropped that day, leaving your field too small to award 4th and watching your money go to a tenth place male? Did he deserve that money more because he had more competitors?

I understand the basis for the argument; it reminds me of a local race I ran when I was still at an age group level with my running. A male friend had run a great race, but came up a few slots short of an age group award. He was livid that I had won my age group, arguing that most women just had to show up to win an award, and for most local races, he was right. It was very common to only have a few women in each age group while the male field was double or triple that of the female field.

While some of the arguments are sound I still don't agree, and especially not at the top level. Every elite out there has put in similar training, given up similar amounts of time and needs the prize money equally regardless of sex or field size. I don't think a pro woman should get paid less for her efforts just because ten more professional men showed up to race than women. Given my sex I am obviously biased, but I would like to think if the tables were turned and more professional women were in the race, I would still agree that awards should be given out equally regardless of the field depth.

Where do you stand on equal race prize purses for each sex? Do you feel that there should be some sort of equalizer for depth of field or depth of performance?

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