The World Surf League Just Took A Major Step For Pay Equality In Sports

"They're actually putting words into action."

The World Surf League made a major change for pay equality this week. Starting in 2019, female surfers will receive the same prize money as their male counterparts in all of the league's events. This makes the WSL is the first U.S.-based sports league to institute pay equality, and it's about time.

The league posted a video announcement on Twitter Wednesday, using the slogan "Equal by Nature" and featuring reactions from several surfers, both male and female. "They're actually putting words into action," said American surfer Lakey Peterson.

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Australian surfer Stephanie Gilmore shared her excitement over the announcement in an op-ed for The Players' Tribune, recalling how she grew up with posters of male surfers on her wall because the female surfers she admired didn't have posters of their own. 

"I feel like the momentum in our society to have this conversation is incredible — because it's not just in surfing, or in sport, that women are fighting for equality in the workplace. It's everywhere," she said, adding, "And I really hope this decision can be the start of a much bigger movement not only in sport, and eventually, in society."

In the same piece, American surfer Kelly Slater shared his own thoughts on the decision as a man in the sport, explaining what it means to him as the son of a single mother who worked as the only female firefighter in her county and faced inequality of her own in the job.

"My mom and women like her deserved better then, and our women — all women — deserve better. Now," Slater wrote, adding, "And I also think that this decision by the WSL is a message to society — that equal prize money should be the standard. It should be the norm."

Celebrities such as Charlize Theron and Chelsea Handler also shared their enthusiasm over the news. Handler tweeted that the WSL has "their priorities straight," while Theron wrote, "There's still a lot of work to do, but kudos to the @wsl for getting us one step closer!"

Unfortunately, women in other sports are still fighting for equality with their male peers, especially when it comes to pay. In 2016, five members of the U.S. women's soccer team filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission over pay discrimination. The subsequent deal included pay increases, but no guarantee of equal pay.

Outside of the United States, a number of female athletes have fared better. Earlier this year, New Zealand became the second country (after Norway) to ensure equal pay for its male and female soccer players. The male and female teams reportedly worked together to negotiate the new contract.

Meanwhile, there is one sport in which the women are actually making more than the men — alpine skiing. In the 2017-2018 season, all but one of the top 18 female skiiers earned more in prize money than the men. The highest-paid skiier was Mikaela Shiffrin, who made $709,886 in prize money, compared to $676,458 for her male counterpart Marcel Hirscher.

Considering this year's Forbes list of the 100 highest-paid athletes didn't include a single woman, there's still a long way to go. 

Cover image: LouisLotterPhotography / Shutterstock.com

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