Sport in the 21st century is becoming increasingly money-oriented. Whether in the sales of merchandise to the sponsorships athletes receive, it’s all about the sales. You see it everywhere. In my gym at home, for example, there’s a huge cutout of Anthony Joshua advertising Lucozade bottles printed with his picture on it. It’s a bizarre phenomenon that’s come about over the past decade or so, that celebrities and athletes can encourage us to buy things, it doesn’t seem to make sense — but it works.
Two weeks ago, the boss of women’s Manchester United argued that female athletes were only getting commercial deals based on their looks and not their talent, which, she argued, doesn’t happen in male sports. And whilst I can understand her frustration, I have to disagree. If we look at commercial deals given to footballers for example, the correlation between looks and number (and content) offers is clear.
Look at players like Ronaldo and David Beckham and tell me that they got their Calvin Klein campaigns based on sheer talent alone. Of course, it helps that they are two of the most talented footballers we have seen, but that talent would have no value were it not accompanied by their looks. Whereas look at a player like Kevin de Bruyne, arguably one of the most talented players in the Premier League at the moment, where are all of his commercial deals based on talent? I’m not trying to insinuate that he is unattractive, I am simply stating that he is incredibly talented and therefore, by Casey Stoney’s logic, he should be innundated with commercial deals. Obviously we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes but, from our point of view, the claim that male sportsmen get deals based on talent is untrue. Serena Williams, the most talented female tennis player at the moment, made $11 million in advertisements in 2012, something I struggle to believe she would have been able to do were she not an immensely talented tennis player. So it seems as though Casey Stoney, whilst justifiably angry, is incorrect.
It’s understandable that there will be female athletes getting commercial deals based on their appearance and that is something which has happened and will continue to happen many years into the future. Where she is incorrect, however, is where the bulk of her anger stems from, that it “doesn’t happen in the men’s game,” something which I think every football fan or even just those who watch TV, knows to be the case. The idea that these women are only getting deals based on looks rather than talent, whereas the men are not, simply doesn’t add up. Athletes would not get commercial deals for brands did they not have the talent to back it up — a company like Adidas is not going to choose an athlete based on looks alone; it wouldn’t look good for their brand. Having a player advertising football boots who has no footballing ability whatsoever just doesn’t make sense; otherwise they could just use models instead of real players (although it’s better, commercially, to have a real celebrity).
I do not agree with what Casey has to say and I think it’s important for the whole idea of equality between men and women in sport that we can acknowledge when things are incorrect. We cannot just let it slide because it backs up a deeply held belief. The commercial side of sport is clearly one area where, surprisingly, men and women seem to be on a level playing field — this is something that should be taken as progress (at least in some sense). Respect for female sport is definitely on the rise, so let’s not hinder its progress with something so trivial.