The Western Force women’s team was not paid enough for rugby to be their full-time job but the players believed new match payments make a big difference to their day-to-day lives during the season.
Zakiya Kereopa, one of the team’s wingers, said the payments helped players deal with the increased cost of living.
“The $1500 goes a long way with petrol, little things with the young girls, with their studies, and for the mums too,” she said.
“Milk is not cheap, it’s actually really expensive, and nappies, I can go on and on.”
Before the season, the Western Force announced it would become Australia’s second Super Women’s rugby team to commit to paying its players.
Players received an upfront payment of $1500 and an incentive-based payment of $300 for a win or $100 loss.
Despite the imbalance of pay with the men’s team, whose salary-cap FOX sports reported to be $4.8 million, Ms Kereopa maintained a positive outlook.
“We just do it because we love it,” she said.
“We’ve been playing rugby and doing Super W for three to four years and we still didn’t get paid.”
Dr Silvia Salazar, who researches gender-based income inequality at the Curtin Bankwest Economics Centre, said a lot needed to be done to bridge the gap between male and female athletes.
“Most of the arguments that come with income inequality in sports is that women don’t bring the same amount of revenue, amount of people to the stadiums, therefore we can’t pay them the same amount of money,” she said.
“If you invest more money, more people will start watching and it will bring more people to the stadiums.
“They do the same work, as in they practice as much as men, they do the same sorts of competition as men.
“Basically, they spend the same number of hours being a professional so why shouldn’t they get paid the same?”
Dr Salazar was skeptical about the Western Force’s incentive-based payment structure.
Despite losing all seven games, one of the team’s youngest players Nicole Ledington, 19, believed the incentivised structure of the payment did not affect the team’s performance.
“We always go out to win, it’s not about if we get an extra $300,” she said.
Dr Salazar called out Australia as being notably poor for paying female athletes, compared to other countries.
“Australia has a particularly bad reputation in professional sports, ” she said.
“They do particularly badly in paying females in sports.
“This is not the case in other countries.”
In 2021, England’s Allianz Premier Women’s rugby competition announced it would raise the salary cap from $106, 000 to $212, 000 per team.
However, Ms Ledington believed there was reason to be optimistic.
She said there was plenty to build on for the future of the game in Australia, especially with the upcoming 2029 Women’s World Cup.
“The main goal is to get a full-time professional sport,” she said.
“I think getting full-time professional female athletes is obviously the top priority, but it will have to take time.”