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California mandates equal prize money, but women are still fighting for playing time

Cyclists at the Tour of California
Reuters/Robert Galbraith
The Amgen Tour of California was a battleground for prize equity, which it granted in 2018. In 2020, though, the race is on ‘hiatus.’
By Matthew De Silva
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

On Jan. 1, California’s Equal Pay for Equal Play law took effect, promising identical prize money to male and female athletes who participate in sports competitions held on state land. As a condition of receiving a lease or permit, competition organizers now must offer equal purses if their events feature men’s and women’s divisions.

But while the new law—unanimously approved as Assembly Bill (AB) 467 by the California State Legislature and signed in September by Governor Gavin Newsom—is a step in the right direction, critics point out that it has a few shortcomings. For one, it does not apply to private competitions, only those held on California’s public lands, such as professional surfing competitions on beaches or cycling races held on roads. And, even then, not every event held on state land requires a permit, so it’s tough to say exactly how many competitions the new law will affect.

Also, as it’s written, the new law doesn’t explicitly address equal opportunity. This is an important omission because the number of days allocated for men’s and women’s events can vary, and that could be used to justify different payouts to male and female winners.

“For example, in cycling, prize money is distributed daily,” explained Kathryn Bertine, a former professional cyclist and CEO of the Homestretch Foundation, an organization dedicated to pay equity in professional sports. “If men race seven days but women race three days and are only being paid for three days, then we can use AB467 as a case where we’re not being paid equally because we’re not being allowed equal access [to professional opportunities],” she told Quartz via email.

“This law does not outright guarantee equal days, but will pave the way for equal opportunity due to pay discrimination over less number of working days,” Bertine wrote.

For now, California law does not mandate an equal number of competition days for men’s and women’s events. It doesn’t even require women’s divisions, which would guarantee that women would have a place to compete. (A gendered division requirement could have forced women’s-only events to introduce men’s divisions, too, a political non-starter.)

However, the new law could strengthen the case for equal pay and equal opportunity down the road, and that’s what this years-long battle has required: grit, determination, and a concerted effort to get what you deserve no matter your gender.

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