Everything that’s wrong with the Ballito Pro

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have by now heard of the furore surrounding the pay disparity for the winners of the recent Ballito Pro in South Africa which saw the winner of the women’s division, Zoe Steyn, get half the prize money of the winner of the men’s division.

Check our the sums on those giant (ie, pre-printed) cheques… Pic: Cestari/WSL

From there, things just got worse. There are a number of problems with this so let’s start at the beginning…

  1. This Never Needed to Happen.

Yes, it goes without saying, but surely, someone, somewhere realised that this is the 21st century and that women deserve equal prize money. Wait, what’s that? The prize money is dictated by the World Surf League? No. Actually it’s not. This event was a Pro Junior Event which has no prize money allocation described in the WSL rules at all. Even if it were a QS (Qualifying Series) event, there is still no grounds in the WSL Rule Book for the disparity. Instead, there is precedent for an equal prize purse. Easier this year at the QS1500 Heroes De Mayo in Iquique the men’s and women’s winners took home exactly the same amount. Here’s the quote from the WSL press release at the time:

The event winners each earned 1,500 WSL Qualifying Series ranking points, but more importantly, in what should become commonplace in modern day society, prize money was distributed equally to the Men’s and Women’s divisions. Both event winners earned $10,000 for their achievements.
Due in large part to the City of Iquique, which advocates financial equality, it is the first time in WSL history that a surfing contest gave out equal prize money to both the Men’s and Women’s athletes.  

Sorry, what was that? Equal prize money should become commonplace? Yeah, I think so too. So not only was there no rules saying that there had to be a difference in the prize money, the first step toward equal prize money had already been taken earlier in the year.

Autumn Hays celebrating her win (and equal prize packet) at the Heroes de Mayo in Iquique. Pic: Diaz/WSL

2. In responding to the social media backlash, the Ballito Pro just dug themselves deeper.

The initial response was this:

The World Surf League is the governing and sanctioning body of the event that determine all prize money and rankings. We have brought this to their attention for further comment. World Surf League.

Erm. No, no and no. Way to handball responsibility! I’ve linked to the WSL Rule Book above and, if it’s easy for me to read and understand, isn’t it realistic to expect the organisers of a major event to do the same? The situation could have been easily handled here with something along the lines of: We recognise the disparity and have decided to increase the women’s prize to be commensurate with the men’s. Done.

3. Given their initial response only fuelled the fire of discontent the Ballito Pro went even further with another half-arsed response.

In a classic case of deflection the Ballot Pro organisers followed up with this doozy of a press release:

The event organisers of The Ballito Pro, presented by Billabong, and representatives of Billabong, have noted the concerns raised regarding the apparent discrepancy in prize money between the girls’ and boys’ division for the Billabong Junior Series.

“The Ballito Pro maintains its stance as a pro-gender equality competition, which is evident from the ongoing development of the women’s series year-on-year,” said festival organisers. “Based on this commitment to equality, we are meeting with all relevant stakeholders to discuss how any potential discrepancies can be resolved going forward.

“We are grateful to everyone who brought awareness to this issue and we value all the contribution, comment and participation that has prompted discussions, at the highest level, for a speedy resolution.

“The World Surf League (WSL) is the sanctioning body for WSL-aligned surfing events such as The Ballito Pro. The WSL implements certain criteria to determine surf ratings and prize money, and we have formally requested a detailed outline of this process for future discussion.”

Chad D Arcy, event license holder of the Billabong Junior Series, stated: “Billabong has always been actively invested in and supportive of women’s surfing in South Africa. We’ve proudly watched women’s surfing grow over the years, in part thanks to the host of women’s events we’ve run. For many years, we’ve sponsored a team of female athletes, nurturing their careers in surfing from an early age.

“In order for any professional surf event to be internationally accredited, it has to be sanctioned by the WSL. The WSL also determines the allocation of prize money and points for each event.

“As a brand, Billabong is, in every way, committed to gender equality and will continue to support the growth and progression of women’s surfing in South Africa.”

Ok. So they don’t see an actual discrepancy? Just an apparent and/or potential one that that maybe, might, could possibly consider remedying in the future? Urgh. Thankfully they have formally requested a outline of the process that determines prize money for the future, because you know, it’s hard to google “WSL Rule Book”, especially when you’re super busy running a WSL sanctioned event. And then, as the final kicker, they kick the whole thing back over to the WSL for blame. Thank goodness. Surely the WSL will step up and make sense of the whole debacle?

4. Finally, the WSL steps in the help Ballito Pro dig the event (and the sport?) even deeper.

Last night on JJJ’s HACK program, WSL Australia/Oceania Regional Manager Will Hayden-Smith said that, “on first glance [the Ballito Pro photo] does look like a huge disparity”. “It highlights an issue, but it’s a very complicated one.” Because apparently he hasn’t read the rule book either, nor the press release from his own organisation saying that equal pay should become commonplace.

“Men get double the prize money only because there are double the competitors,” he continued. Is it not also realistic to consider that perhaps women aren’t competing as much because they know they won’t win as much and therefore face more difficulties in actually getting to and paying for these events? Especially given Will also says that “female surfers also struggle more than male surfers to get sponsored.” So they’re getting less sponsorship opportunities and less prize money which means that there are less competitors but there is less prize money because there are less competitors, get it?

Thankfully, Will did let us all know that 2x Women’s World Champ, Tyler Wright, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and he did want listeners to note that, “we have done a lot of things right at the championship level.

Listen up ladies, if you can make it through the lack of equal training opportunities, lack of sponsorship opportunities and pay disparity at both a junior and QS level to become World Champ, you too may earn as much (or possibly even more) than a man. You go girl!

We do acknowledge there’s room for improvement,” Will concluded. Oh dear. There certainly is and reading your own rule book and press releases is just the beginning.