• Cheek

Think gender inequality doesn't exist? Just look at the footy

Stacks of people still just aren't buying the whole feminism thing. Women have the vote, and we can do pretty much anything we want in Australia in 2021. So let's look at inequality through a lens the inequality-deniers can understand: footy.

Men's Rugby League, which we at Cheek refer to as NRLM, has been exempt from almost every COVID restriction other businesses have had to adhere to. Brisbane went into lockdown, the NRLM hosted two games in one day. COVID numbers were up, Suncorp Stadium was at full capacity. People haven't visited family for 18 months, the footy is brining commentators over the border.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk recently had to apologise for bringing NRLM players' families and 'entourage' into Queensland despite banning incoming travellers and closing down hotel quarantine facilities. In the same week, it was announced that the Women's NRL (NRLW) competition would be cancelled and picked up again next year.

The Queensland Government PAID to have the men's competition held in the sunshine state, and the women's comp has been scrapped completely. NRLW players Ali Brigginshaw and Tazmin Gray both spoke out about their disappointment in the NRL, with Gray saying that the NRL is holding them back. Both athletes expressed disappointment (or perhaps it was anger) about being referred to as semi-professional or part-time athletes.

As Brigginshaw and Gray stated, NRLW players are referenced as 'part time' athletes. Many of these players have to hold down a 'normal' job to make a living year around. Even though the NRL itself refers to them as 'elite'. An NRL journalist wrote on its site that asking the women to relocate for or change games would be 'too much of an ask' given they are 'part time athletes' who 'have other commitments,' which included family. Which is weird because plenty of the male players have family as well... Seems like some kind of double standard... Could it be because women are expected to be the primary caregiver regardless of profession or situation?

The men's NRL season consists of 25 games, and the women's contains six. This of course reflects the number of teams in each. The women's teams play after the men's season has finished (when they get to play at all). A likely retort to this is that there simply aren't enough players to fill out the women's teams. So why was the AFLW able to bulk out their women's teams to 18?

As Malcolm Knox aptly wrote in the SMH, (rugby) league is paying tribute to its women in lots of positive ways, in their roles as mothers, spouses, sisters, friends and fans of the game. They are trainers and staff in the clubs, though rarely in the top office jobs and never as head coaches, not even in the NRLW.

NRLM partners, often referred to as WAGs (wives and girlfriends) which I personally find disgusting along with being so obviously heteronormative, as if their male partners define them, often have substantial platforms of their own. The Herald Sun even publishes a yearly 'top 100 WAGs coloumn.' Fucking EW. Unfortunately these days, they are most popularly known for anti-vax rhetoric, but are still prioritised over women's players by the NRL.

And finally... The cash. The Queensland Rugby League put out a staement this year that reads: QRL will pay players up to $6500, meaning those women who train throughout the preparation period and play will receive $8500 this year. The men’s match fee is $15,000 in 2021. And while the argument here would be that the women only play for part of the year, well, so do the men. All players have a responsibility to keep fit and skilled in the off season, it's just that the men get paid for it while the women have to fit it around their other responsibilities.