Robertson Show Potato Race
Competitors during the women's potato-carrying race at the Robertson Show Robertson Show Committee

Controversy has engulfed the noble sport of potato-carrying after it emerged that male winners of an annual race in south western Australia get A$1,000 (£564) in prize money, while the women are awarded just A$200 (£113).

In the town of Robertson in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, competitors race over a 400-metre distance while carrying a large sack of potatoes. The men carry 50kg while women carry 12.5kg.

The Australian Championship Potato Races are a cornerstone of Robertson life and a highlight of the spud-loving town's annual show.

A fundraising campaign to boost the prize pool for female competitors was started by Mel Tait, whose parents own local landmark the Big Potato and a local supermarket.

"The disparity between the two wasn't known. It wasn't discussed," Tait told Australia's ABC News.

"It's an entertainment. It's entertainment for us to watch and I would argue that the men's and the women's race offer exactly the same amount of entertainment. So why would they not be compensated the same way?"

Rachel Johnston ran the race several years ago with her sister Sally, who has been one of the winners.

"The crowd that day was loving it. I thought we'd run together and see how we went. I got halfway along the track and it was really tiring but she wasn't flustered and she just took off," Ms Johnston said.

"At the end of the day she got paid $200. The men got $1,000. At the time it didn't bother me so much, but now we're talking about it more it does.

"It's all about entertainment. The women's race is just before the men's. It's not like people go to watch the men and not the women. I think it was a far more entertaining race, from what we heard, than the men's."

Tait does not buy the argument that men carry more than the women due to general size and strength differences. "We don't pay bantamweights a different amount than we do heavyweights in boxing," she argues.

Rosemary Turner, a member of the Robertson Show committee, said: "Next year we're more than happy to talk to somebody about increasing the prize money, maybe even making it equal to the championship race. But we can't just wade in this year and add extra money. We've got [to raise the funds via] sponsorship."

The gender pay gap across all sport has been a contentious issue for years. In March 2016 five women who play the USA's World Cup-winning football (soccer) team filed a federal complaint accusing the US Soccer Federation of wage discrimination.

The issue has also been prevalent in tennis, where in 1973 women players won equal prize money at the US Open. It has remained equal ever since, but other tournaments took longer to catch up. Since 2007 each of the four major grand slam tournaments have offered equal prize money.