Sport is integral to the Kiwi way of life and how we see ourselves. But our ‘play hard play fair’ attitude only goes so far – especially when it comes to how we pay sportspeople and their leaders.

Anyone else glued to the telly last week watching the Silver Ferns battle the Aotearoa Men’s team?

As a tall girl, I spent thousands of hours of my youth defending a shooter’s circle. My technique was “the brick wall’’ because it’s hard to put a shot up when you have one in front of you. 

The Aotearoa Men’s players must have felt like that for the Ferns – taller, broader, solid, just like a brick wall. But the agility, speed and skill of the Ferns meant they worked around the sheer size of the men and could win.

While the battle of the sexes played out on court, a report also released last week showed that the playing field is far from equal if you are employed by a sports organisation. 

Sport NZ released the results of its Diversity and Inclusion Survey. The survey of 154 sports organisations found a 15 percent overall gender pay gap and more men in sports leadership roles (especially chief executives, coaches and development managers) who are paid more than women in equivalent roles. Not just a smidge more either. For chief executive positions it is 50 percent more. 

Māori employees are paid 12 percent less; 16 percent less if in leadership roles. Pasifika, Asian and Chinese employees are under-represented in the sports workforce, representing 6 percent of employees in total. 

For those sport workers, the pay gaps will matter because they represent less pay in their pockets each week. 

But there is a bigger game at play here.

Sport – which by Sport NZ’s definition extends to recreation and play – is such an integral part of life on our isles. Their 2017 survey found that 84 percent of us think sport and physical activity brings us together and creates a sense of belonging. 

More than that (86 percent) think that high performance sport instils a sense of pride in our country and contributes to our national identity.

We also think sport is key to building life skills like co-operating with others and builds strong, vibrant communities. Twenty six percent of new migrants join a sports club, the single most popular group for new migrants. 

One million of us even think that sport is so important that we volunteer to help each year. If your sports volunteering was anything like mine, that meant cold, wet, windy Saturday mornings coaching or refereeing on the sidelines.

The survey presented back to us what we probably already knew: sport for us is about national identity, a sense of belonging, community, and inclusion. 

So it is vitally important that sports represents who we are and aspire to be. And that includes being fair.

We play hard but we play fair. We don’t like cheats or underhanded tactics or bad losers. 

Except that we aren’t fair when it comes to paying some of the people who lead, coach, and administer sport. 

And that is just not cricket. 

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