Rosa Montero is a highly respected Spanish journalist and author. She writes a regular column in the newspaper El País and has published 29 books.
Rosa Montero, El País – 17 Mar 2019
Women experience a complete lack of protection in the world of sport. The majority of sportswomen don’t even have a contract and can reach the end of their careers without ever being able to make National Insurance contributions.
On previous occasions, I have mentioned a friend of mine whose boldness knows no bounds. Originally hailing from the Spanish town of Vigo, Chus Lago was the third woman ever to climb Everest without oxygen. Now, she has just captained a voyage across Lake Baikal in Siberia, the largest reserve of fresh water in the world. Chus, Verónica Romero and Rocío García took 24 days to travel the 640 kilometres lengthways, from south to north, across the lake’s treacherous, icy surface, becoming the first ever women to do so. The aim of the expedition, named ‘Compromiso con la Tierra’, [Commitment to the Earth] was to demonstrate the effects of climate change. I posted the news on my social media, and several women who read it were surprised, having seen nothing of the story in the press. And this isn’t the worst instance of such a lack of publicity - 10 years ago, Chus reached the South Pole after an epic solo journey across Antarctica, 59 days of arduous work pulling a sled weighing more than 100 kilos. There was little mention of that either. Women’s sporting achievements? Not worth writing about, apparently.
It’s shocking that sport is one of the sectors in which women are most discriminated against. This rampant sexism is surprising given that it’s such a widely publicised activity, so subject to the scrutiny of the public. We’re not talking about employment inequality in some dingy back office somewhere; this is brazen sexism in front of prime-time audiences. It happens all over the world - in Forbes magazine’s 2018 list of the 100 highest paid athletes, not one woman appeared. But in Spain, the situation is even more pitiful. Here, we are still governed by the discriminatory Ley del Deporte (Sports Law) of 1990, that doesn’t recognise women as professional athletes: they are all considered amateurs.
As a consequence of this, women suffer a complete lack of protection. The majority do not have contracts, nor a means of contributing to Seguridad Social (similar to National Insurance in the UK), and so can end their careers of thirty-something years without ever having access to certain state benefits. They are not provided with insurance to cover against injuries or accidents and for many, competing costs them money. Take for instance the case of the shooter Pilar Calvo, who represented Spain in the World Championships of 2015 in Italy – while she had to cover all her own costs, her male counterparts were paid by the federation. It’s also an open secret that, quite frequently, female athletes are forced to sign illegal non-pregnancy agreements.
Women in sport are often unsalaried and receive infinitely smaller prizes, if indeed they receive a prize at all instead of just being openly humiliated – there have been surfing championships in which the male winners received 1000 euros, and the female winners were given bikinis. Generally speaking, female athletes have to work very hard to earn a living, which means not being able to train as much as they should and having to ask for holidays from work to attend competitions. And this is all without even taking into account the sexual abuse they are often subjected to, the offensively ‘sexy’ uniforms they are given or the stupid comments they receive.
According to the 2017 Annual Directory of Sports Statistics from the Senior Council of Sports, women account for 22.3% of federated athletes. However, the media coverage of women’s sports makes up less than 5% of the news, according to the Audiovisual Council of Andalucía. Although there is some disagreement about the exact figures, a lack of visibility, plus the usual sexism, means that female athletes receive less than 1% of sponsorship money.
One exception is Iberdrola, who, since 2016, have only sponsored female sport, supporting 16 federations and 22,000 female athletes, as well as promoting basic rights, like securing the women’s access to state benefits and pensions. “It’s a tough job, it’s hard to change the way things are. For example, there’s supposed to be parity in the coverage of sports on television, but the news on female athletes is broadcast in the early hours of the morning”, says Julian Martinez-Simancas, Secretary of the Board of Directors of Iberdrola.
In November, the senate approved a bill to end inequalities in sporting awards, and in February, the Council of Ministers (similar to the UK government’s Cabinet) gave the green light to a draft bill for a much-needed sports law, but that may be jeopardised by the calling of an election. In spite of all this drama, Spanish female athletes have won more medals than their male counterparts in the last two Olympic Games. Imagine what they’d achieve with proper support.
Translated by Molly Shevlin