Junior South African surfer Zoe Steyn has responded to the firestorm created after collecting a prize cheque half the value of her male counterpart.
The 15-year-old received 4000 rand ($400) for her victory at the Billabong Junior Series event in Ballito, South Africa in late June, while the male winner of the tournament received a cheque for 8000 rand ($800).
An image of the two young surfers with their prize cheques quickly went viral after it was posted on ‘The Ballito Pro’ Facebook account, with thousands of onlookers reacting angrily to the pay disparity.
Many described the prize prize money disparity as “a disgrace” and called on tournament sponsors Billabong to move with the times.
“I can’t believe she got half of the prize money that he got. That’s not only unfair, it is also disgraceful and disrespectful to women,” Facebook user Kiana Lama Lama Difesa posted in response to the photo.
“I am outraged that in 2018 both Billabong and The Ballito Pro think that it is appropriate to pay the female winner exactly half the prize money of the male winner. I encourage you to let both Billabong and The Ballito Pro know that this is not acceptable,” another user fumed.
However, the surfer at the centre of the the issue, Zoe Steyn, has broken her silence and called for the World Surf League and sponsors of surfing to be given time to make adjustments.
“Obviously I support gender equality – no question!” Steyn told 7Sport.
“Let’s give the sponsors and WSL a chance to level the prize money at future contests.
“They do provide a great chance for a young surfer like me to compete against international surfers, and that I really appreciate.”
Steyn also revealed that she hadn’t even noticed the pay disparity when receiving her cheque at Ballito, saying it was only when she checked her Instagram account that she realised the pay gap, and the controversy it had sparked.
“I was so just so happy to win the WSL Ballito Pro Junior, that I didn’t even see what was written on the cheques at the awards ceremony,” the Island Style athlete said.
“Only the next day when I got some messages on Instagram, did I realise the prize difference.”
Steyn’s Instagram account immediately blew up after she posted an update on her success at the junior event, with friends and fans condemning the tournament’s organisers and sponsors in the comments section of her post.
Zoe’s father, Roelef Steyn, echoed the sentiments of his daughter in assessing the the pay disparity, saying tournaments such as Ballito provide young surfers with a great opportunity to advance their careers.
“She (Zoe) was so happy to win in Ballito – we only realised the prize difference much later!” Roelef Steyn told 7Sport.
“She feels very humbled by all the support though. As much as she believes in gender parity, she feels WSL/ Billabong must be given a chance to rectify things going forward.
“These contests are a huge opportunity for SA’s young surfers to gain valuable experience.”
Meanwhile, The Ballito Pro responded to the outrage on their viral Facebook post with a message saying that the tournament and its sponsor, Billabong, “have noted the concerns” raised in regards to the pay disparity.
“The Ballito Pro maintains its stance as a pro-gender equality competition, which is evident from the ongoing development of the women’s series year-on-year,” festival organisers said on Facebook.
“Based on this commitment to equality, we are meeting with all relevant stakeholders to discuss how any potential discrepancies can be resolved going forward.
“We are grateful to everyone who brought awareness to this issue and we value all the contribution, comment and participation that has prompted discussions, at the highest level, for a speedy resolution.
“The World Surf League (WSL) is the sanctioning body for WSL-aligned surfing events such as The Ballito Pro. The WSL implements certain criteria to determine surf ratings and prize money, and we have formally requested a detailed outline of this process for future discussion.”
Furthermore, a representative from Billabong, Chad D Arcy, said Billabong was “committed to gender equality”.
“Billabong has always been actively invested in and supportive of women’s surfing in South Africa,” D Arcy wrote.
“We’ve proudly watched women’s surfing grow over the years, in part thanks to the host of women’s events we’ve run. For many years, we’ve sponsored a team of female athletes, nurturing their careers in surfing from an early age.
“In order for any professional surf event to be internationally accredited, it has to be sanctioned by the WSL. The WSL also determines the allocation of prize money and points for each event.
“As a brand, Billabong is, in every way, committed to gender equality and will continue to support the growth and progression of women’s surfing in South Africa.”
In a heartwarming twist to the story, the money Steyn should have won at the Ballito Pro has now been raised via a gofundme page, created by the former head of diversity at Australia Post, Lauren Jauncey.
Women’s Agenda is reporting Steyn decided to give the money raised to a local charity called ‘The Township Surf Project’ which ‘gets kids off the streets and into the ocean’.