Female golfers hope to score a birdie for gender equality at Rio Olympics

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 4 August 2016 13:51 GMT

Sandra Gal tees off on the sixth hole during the third round of the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills CC, Rancho Mirage, CA, USA, in April 4, 2015. Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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"It is annoying that the men are getting so much attention when we are not"

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON, Aug 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Golf's return to the Olympics after more than a century gives women golfers the opportunity to show they are as talented as male players and deserve to earn the same, female competitors said ahead of the opening of the Rio Games.

Golf first appeared at the Olympics in 1900 where it was one of five sports that featured women athletes for the first time.

Equal numbers of male and female golfers - 60 of each - are due to compete at the 2016 Olympics which open on Friday, attracting round-the-clock global media coverage that many female players hope will give their sport a boost.

For although Olympic athletes are not paid for representing their country, competing for possible medal glory and maybe a medal bonus, many hope the exposure will put them on a better footing for higher pay, prize money and sponsorships later.

"It is annoying that the men are getting so much attention when we are not," Denmark's Nicole Broch Larsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We are up there as well and we are playing good golf."

The world's top five male players have a scoring average of 69.327 per round. For the top five female golfers it's a 69.916 average - yet the disparity in prize money is vast.

In 2015, the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA), awarded more than $300 million in prizes to male players, five times the amount offered by its counterpart, the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

This highlighted the historic pay disparity in sport which hit the headlines earlier this year when the United States Women's National Soccer team filed a lawsuit to try to close the pay gap between themselves and their male counterparts.

Forbes' latest list of the world's 100 highest-paid athletes only includes two women - tennis players Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

LESS ADVERTISING

Sandra Gal, one of Germany's top female golfers, blamed the disparity in earnings on a lower level of interest shown by the public that in turn translates into less media coverage and less money from advertising.

"The Olympics are going to raise our profile and in the long term, help us move towards equality," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Almost all the top women's seeds will be competing in Rio, playing a week after the men.

In contrast, the world's top four male golfers have pulled out, citing health concerns due to the mosquito-born Zika virus, but organisers have questioned the decision.

"They are not coming because there's no prize money," said Rio Games chief Carlos Nuzman last month.

Italy's Giulia Molinaro said it would help if male and female golfers competed at the same time in future Olympics as seeing them on the same world stage could encourage new women players and sponsors.

"We could easily ... concentrate all the coverage in a single week," Molinaro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sports where men and women compete at the same event, like tennis, are more likely to have equal pay, according to Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO of the U.S.-based Women's Sports Foundation.

Larkin said a cultural change was needed in the way women's sports were viewed.

"When young boys and girls see men and women compete they want to play sports and the reason why that's important is because of all the education and health and social and leadership skills that they get when they participate," Larkin said.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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