Women surfers scored a big win in California last year when an obscure government commission decided it would only lease a public beach to the Mavericks global surf competition if men and women were awarded the same amount of prize money. Experts said the precedent could compel equal pay at marathons, bike races, skateboard contests — any athletic events on public land.
A lawmaker put the idea into a bill that, if approved, would require equal prize money for men and women at any sporting event on state-owned property. It all seemed to be good news in the long fight for gender equality for women athletes, whose male peers have long been paid far more.
Now a push to go further is opening a broader debate over how to advance equality for women in male-dominated sports — and whether all-female competitions should be open to men.
Arguing that the bill inspired by their victory doesn’t go far enough, some of the same women who fought for equal prize money at the Mavericks surfing competition want the bill also to require that all sporting events on public land include categories for both men and women.
“Long term, that will be best for women athletes and encourage girls to stick with the sport and become pro athletes and get the money they need to do that,” said Sabrina Brennan, co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, the group that pressured state regulators first into including women at the Mavericks surf challenge and then into requiring equal prize money.