Ladies fistfought as early as the 18th century. Sport and women's rights

Baron Pierre de Coubertin said that "women are only needed at the Games to give the stadium a nice smell and to console the losers."

The emancipation of women in sport is limited. Specifically about speedway events and Formula 1 racing. Although one Polish woman has been granted a speedway licence and two ladies have competed on the F1 race track, but that would be about it. Meaning - there is not full equality and that's that.

Those moved by this fact will probably not accept that one "speedway woman" is not enough to form a league or organise a championship, and that two lady drivers are not sufficient to create a women's Formula 1. Well, that's the truth.

It might be a small consolation to know that all other sports are played by women without making a stammer, but I don't know if anything can appease the principled dissatisfied.

However, progress towards women's equality in sport is evident. From the ancient Olympic Games being inaccessible to women, to their current mutated formula open to the participation of men and women equally, there have been visible changes.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE There will always be someone who will point out extreme patriarchalism, not to say misogyny, male pride and arrogance to the Greeks. Except that this is not true. The evolution of societies breaks down into stages, and gender equality is one of them.

It has rippled through human history, it has had its tides. Let me remind you that in primitive times, there was matriarchy. Both men and women were recognised as the breadwinners of tribal communities, with women being valued more highly because there were reasons for this.

This is evidenced by artefacts from the Neolithic period found by archaeologists. Thirty thousand female figurines and only a thousand male ones have been found. Men hunted, women cultivated the land and it was they who invented the first agricultural tools, according to science.

And going back to the Greeks, although they excluded women from stadiums, they made up for it in other areas. The Pythagoreans, including Plutarch of Cheronea, encouraged women to study in philosophical schools on an equal footing with men.

In medieval Finland, equality was solemnly observed. The Polish nobility in the 16th-17th centuries regarded marriages as a partnership arrangement rather than one based on subordination. Of course, this was not the emancipation we know today. Nor is the current one that satisfies everybody.

This process is not smooth, rather jerky. But it is still progressing despite the resistance of conservative circles or the political decisions that result from these views. The course of things is illustrated by, among other things, electoral rights. At the beginning granted only territorially.

In 1869, this was done in Wyoming County, USA. In 1881 in the British Isle of Man. In 1893, active suffrage was granted to women in the territory of New Zealand, but passive only after the First World War in 1919. In the Second Polish Republic, they were granted them immediately, in 1918, with the restoration of independence.

It was the same in other matters. The first woman to be allowed to teach at the Sorbonne in Paris was Marie Skłodowska-Curie in 1906. Against this background, sport stands out fundamentally. Not only consistent, but almost full equality.

Sexist baron?

And it all started with a firm objection. Not just anyone, but the father of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. This enlightened, thoroughly educated intellectual arbitrarily ruled out the participation of women in the Games.

Not only did he exclude, he did so in a way for which modern feminists would tear him to shreds, for he said: "women are only needed at the Olympics to make the stadium smell nice and to comfort the losers."

The Baron, I believe, had no intention of insulting the ladies. He was not trying to reduce them to the role of ferns, more like roses. After all, he was not speaking to us, he was speaking to his contemporaries, who were unlikely to see him as a sexist.

I don't know if he had in the back of his mind the sporting abstinence of women applied by the ancient Greeks, or if he was thinking about the unpleasant smell of sweaty guys and didn't want to expose the ladies to similar circumstances, but he made them have an uphill battle already at the start.
Agata Wróbel took first place in the +75 weight class at the 17th Polish Women's Weightlifting Championships in 2010. Photo: PAP/Wojciech Pacewicz
Only for a short time, only four years. Already at the second Games in Paris in 1900, 22 women competed, and the first Olympic champion in golf was American Margaret Ives Abbott. And so it went, albeit with turbulence.

This Formula 1 and this speedway do not negatively affect the high saturation of sport with women's disciplines, that much is obvious. To be honest, in no other area of human endeavour does gender equality reach such a balance.

There is no longer a division between male and female sports in an exclusionary sense. There is a separation of the two sexes in the direct competition arenas, although so-called "mixtures" (e.g. mixed relays) are coming into fashion, a little as variety and a little to be politically correct.

In fact, the subject of sporting emancipation was closed when women started boxing and weightlifting. In the process, views of the fragile and weak gender were corrected, which were greatly stretched, as documented, for example, by the days of our mothers.

Women fought fist fights as far back as the 18th century. Women's boxing was even a demonstration discipline at the 1904 Olympic Games, but it failed to arouse enthusiasm, so it did not take off. It did not return to the Games until 2012 in London.

However, women's fisting was not accepted by either men or women for a very long time. To this day, it evokes extreme emotions and conflicting opinions. But girls who have chosen such a career are gaining confidence, sometimes bordering on bravado.

For example, Claressa Shields, the global star of women's professional boxing, wants to fight men. She has even given specific names - Gennady Golovkin or Keith Thurman. Well, when it comes to emancipation, it's full-on and there are no apologies....

Only that there is a financial disparity between women's and men's boxing. The pay gap is the main argument to undermine equality in sport, and that is because it is not due to less attractive shows or fan interest.

Heather Hardy, multiple featherweight champion of the world, cited her own example of this. She fought at a gala in New York against Shelly Vincent. Prior to that, there was a bout between Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Dervaniachenko. It was televised on HBO. The budget for the men's part of the show was USD 3 million. The women's was US$10,000.

The organisers' standard explanation that women's fights are less watched, and therefore lower paid, fell by the wayside. The guys' clash was watched by 554,000 TV viewers. And the women's fight 527,000 people. No wonder Hardy blared with indignation.

In this situation, the $50,000 that Shields gets seems an astronomical sum. Whatever one's attitude to female fisting, one has to admit that the best female fighters can fire up the audience, sometimes better than the men. And not just in this sport.

Emotional women

Some competitions practised by women are often more interesting and thrilling than the male versions. And cross-country skiing is one of them. We could see this in the example of the Holy War between Marit Bjørgen and Justyna Kowalczyk.

The national theme and Justyna's successes significantly increased interest. But at the same time, differences in the way the races were played out became apparent. And it was these differences that triggered powerful emotions, much more so in women's cross-country skiing.

The men's way of running is calculating, cold and pragmatic. The women's one is the opposite. Marit and Justyna, as well as the rest of their female colleagues, ran with their hearts, one hundred percent from start to finish. Sometimes forgetting tactics, so running as if against themselves.

But these sudden crises or breakthroughs only turned up the spectacle. In the World Cup, during the Tour de Ski, huge audiences were rocking on the swings of emotions. This was reflected in high TV ratings. The fate of the female protagonists in this series drew in millions.

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The accumulation occurred at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The battle for gold in the 30 km between Bjørgen and Kowalczyk was watched by almost 10 million TV viewers. Cross-country skiing in Poland has never had such an audience.

Women are more emotional than men, that's the truth. You can see it like the back of your hand in every sport. This impresses the fans, especially as they don't try to hide anything. Their passion, their 100 per cent commitment is given to every audience. And it mutates.

The power of habit

According to FIFA, the matches of the last Women's World Cup in France were watched by more than one billion viewers. The audience for the football final was 260 million and the average audience for all matches was double that of the previous championships.

By contrast, the most important matches of the men's World Cup in Russia were watched by 190 million fewer people than the one in Brazil. Of course, this had no effect on the players' salaries, which have been obscenely high for a long time. Thus, the financial theme returned.

The media success of the Women's World Cup also had no impact on the salaries of female footballers. They were and remain decidedly, even grossly, lower than men's. The average salary of a good female footballer is around €300,000 a year.

In 2019, the richest female footballer was Norway's Ada Hegerberg, earning €400,000. The current leader is American Carly Lloyd, whose income, however, does not exceed USD 1 million, so comparisons with the men's football sector would be pure sadism.

The women's Tour de France is just as long and almost as difficult as the men's. So the effort valuations should be similar. However, nothing of the sort. The total prize money of the men's section was €2 million 257 thousand. The women's was €247,000 530.

Only around 11% of the men's prize budget is a fair distribution otherwise, if fairness had anything to do with it. But that's not all. The male winner received €500,000 and the female victor 10 times less, only €50,000. With the payouts at the stages it was the same.

There is no stopping women from boxing, football or cycling. But there is little chance of them earning as much as men. This could be blamed on male chauvinism on the part of sports activists if the payouts depended solely on the number of spectators or television viewers.

However, it does not work so mechanically. The budget of an event or club is made up of funds from sponsors, advertisers and television rights. The organiser of the show or the owner of the club invests in exactly what he or she gets the money for.

No one gives out money on the basis of 'you have it and do what you want' The partners of the sport put out earmarked funds. Usually bigger in the men's sector. And also not because the investors are chauvinists. It is because they are businessmen. They count money and count on profits.

Returns are higher and more certain in all disciplines involving men, as the force of habit works. Not necessarily of investors, but of spectators, i.e. the audience market. For example, the men's Tour de France is over 100 years old. The women's one was a historic premiere. It has not yet taken root in the public consciousness, which has its consequences.

It is for this reason that the male part of sport is more secure for business. It is true that emancipation is making improvements, but their effects, especially in so-called young women's sports, are still a kind of experiment, risky for business.

Hence the differences in budgets and thus in the earnings of female athletes, because access to stadiums for both sexes has been almost balanced. Almost, because men do not do artistic gymnastics or synchronised swimming. At least for the time being...

Ambiguous naming

The emancipation of women in sport has come a long way, from an evolution spread over hundreds of years to revolutionary changes in the 20th century. However, various problems persist, such as the financial one, which requires a change in habits. Then again, so does the language problem.
Since sport has ceased to be a mission and become a business it could not be more different. To fully open arenas to women is to multiply profits by two. Each men's and women's sport is doubling revenue and expanding the labour market for a lot of people.

From world federations, to managers, agents, coaches, advertisers and the media the profits are obvious. There is good money to be made on the new sports played by women. On older ones, like athletics, they are even better.

A new segment of the sporting market has been created, new jobs and earnings, in a dimension that did not exist in the past. Also for those female athletes who earn less than male ones. Only that the reason is not male chauvinism, but the laws of the market, and this will change..

The more money sponsors, advertisers and the media manage to pull from the market for women's sports, say event organisers, the more money they will make, because that is how the laws of the market work.

It was money that was the impetus for opening up the sport to women, not ideas. If it wasn't worth it, it wouldn't have happened. I don't think even hardcore feminists would rather die for women's access to the ring or octagons

And it is money that determines the distribution of funds regardless of gender. Some footballers earn more and others less, even though both are men. The reason is trivially obvious. The former make more profit than the latter.

Modern sport is capitalism. The service segment of the free market economy. The one earns better who sells better. In the practice of marketing, the athlete is a commercial product. He or she has a brand and a price. Everyone works hard and long for both. But what counts in the end is the result, both sporting and commercial. And this will not be changed by decree.

– Marek Jóźwik
- translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Duel between MMA fighters Alice Ardelean (Romania/HPS Romania, black outfit) ) and Sylwia Juśkiewicz (Poland/Fight Club Łódź) during the Ladies Fight Night gala in Łódź, 2015. Photo: PAP/Grzegorz Michałowski
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