Wellington: New Zealand's new government has moved swiftly to target pay equality in rugby union, criticising the salary gap between top men and women players in the country's most popular pastime.
Pay parity was a campaign policy of the Labour Party, which formed a three-way coalition government just days ago, and Sports Minister Grant Robertson said on Saturday he would take up the matter with New Zealand Rugby (NZR). Members of the Black Ferns, the New Zealand team which won the Women's Rugby World Cup in August, are mainly amateur with most players fitting their sport around full-time jobs. The only contracted women in New Zealand are those who play on the world sevens circuit.
The All Blacks, the reigning men's World Cup champions, are all professional with a current payment pool of 191 million NZ dollars (USD 131 million) spread over three years. Captain Kieran Read's salary is believed to be more than 1 million NZ dollars before endorsements and sponsorships.
"I will be looking forward to a conversation with NZ Rugby about how they will achieve the government's goal of pay equity," Robertson told TV3's "The Nation" today.
"I certainly believe the Black Ferns should be paid better. They're a world champion team. Women's rugby is now one of the most competitive parts of rugby in the world." The women were reported to have earned just 2,000 NZ dollars (USD 1,370) in match fees during their World Cup. The side that beat England, the only professional team in the tournament, in the final consisted of 17 amateurs and six players on rugby sevens contracts.
In September, following the release of a report which found that opportunities for women in rugby were not as available as they should be, NZR pledged to tackle the issue. But chief executive Steve Tew said it was not straightforward because there were few competitive playing opportunities for women.
"How we contract players in the long-term is something we are looking closely at. We already contract the sevens and we certainly paid assembly fees for the Black Ferns. But how we contract for the future has to be woven into that," he said. "We could contract a certain number of top XVs players, but what actually would they do because there isn't a professional competition for them to play in. So it's not as simple as that. But there's an opportunity and it's one we've got to have a good look at."