Flying Sand

Hong Kong women’s soccer is led by a guy called Rambo, but are they paid like men?

Niall Fraser says it’s time to stop using free market as excuse for gender gap in salaries, as Norway’s team shows the way to fair pay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 10:21pm

Please put to one side the delightful fact that the current head coach of the Hong Kong women’s football team is a man called Rambo – I am not kidding – and consider the following development, which you almost certainly missed.

Earlier this month, Norway decided that its elite female footballers would be paid exactly the same as their male counterparts when they play for the national team.

The groundbreaking move should, rightly, be considered a historic blow for gender equality, whatever slings and arrows of statistical and sociological sophistry are thrown its way in an attempt to undermine it.

In stark, no-nonsense terms, the Scandinavian nation – famous for fjords and salmon not quite as delicious as that of the Scottish variety – having previously allotted 3.1 million kronor (HK$3 million) a year to the women – less than half the amount given to the men – will now give 6 million kronor per annum to the nation’s first female 11.

And just to rub it in, like a stinging pre-match muscle spray, the 6.55 million kronor budget traditionally doled out to the men’s national team has been trimmed by 550,000 kronor to bring bottom-line parity to the two teams.

It should also be noted that this move has the overwhelming backing of the population of Norway, which, the last time I looked, was made up of men and women.

Now, I have no idea what Ricardo Rambo, to give the aforementioned head coach of Hong Kong’s women’s national football team his proper name, thinks of this development. But as a decision, it has what I believe to be positive implications that go far deeper and wider than the beautiful game, if you are willing to open your mind to new possibilities.

For the record, on Monday, China’s male national team jumped to 54th from 62nd place in the latest Fifa rankings to become the fourth-highest-ranked team in Asia, one place ahead of South Korea. Their female counterparts – who are paid a lower rate – sit at No 13 in the corresponding rankings for women.

Rambo or no Rambo, Hong Kong’s men and women – considered, for now at least, as separate members when it comes to the governing body of world soccer – rank 142nd and 68th respectively. The city’s women footballers are also paid less than their more illustrious male counterparts.

But this enlightened move by Norway to bring gender parity to soccer remuneration has a wider significance than what some might consider a pointless 11-versus-11 pursuit of a ball around a rectangular playing field.

Consider this.

For as long as I can remember – and please correct me if I am wrong – the killer argument employed against such gender pay parity, be it in football, tennis, golf or indeed any field of human endeavour, has been that levels of pay are dictated by the market.

This tired and sexist argument, normally laced with beef about maternity leave, menstruation and the general time-and-motion-sapping demands of motherhood, is part of the wider, deeply flawed notion that the “market” floats somewhere above society like an all-knowing deity untouched by the ravages of real life, and must be obeyed.

What our pesky, latter-day Vikings have done is to reject this widely accepted nonsense and pitch the pay of women not on the magical, invisible hand of the market but on what the people of their society – male and female – overwhelmingly want.

Little wonder it hasn’t received much publicity.