The gender pay gap has been widely publicised and discussed in recent years. Discrepancies between pay for men and women in sports are found in companies across the world. 

There are inconsistencies in pay in various sectors, but in sports, this topic has hit the headlines. 


Why is there a gender pay gap in sports?


The current disparity has its roots in Victorian society, which viewed sports and playing sports as a masculine endeavor. It was common for women not to be encouraged to play sports, and admired sportspeople were typically men. 

This situation, although it is changing, remains to a certain extent that men are more likely to be encouraged to play sports, than women. 

If fact, believe it or not, it wasn’t until the London 2012 Olympics that every country’s delegation include a female competitor. 


Which sports have the largest gender pay gap? 


The Women’s World Cup was under the spotlight in 2019. The winning team received the prize money which totalled £3.2 million. Although this was double the prize money of the previous tournament, it was still almost ten times less than the men’s prize money of £29 million. 

It is argued that the huge difference between the prize money for the winners of the World Cup is down to the increased revenue from the larger audience that men’s football attracts. However, the men’s and women’s World Cup rights are generally sold as a package. 

According to a BBC survey, around 83% of 63 sports analysed offered the same prize money for both men and women. But this leaves 17% of sports that still have a gender pay gap, and this gap runs into the millions. 

In the Forbes 2021 list of highest-paid athletes, 2 females appeared in the top 50. Naomi Osaka, in 12, and Serena Williams in 28th position. 


How is the pay gap affecting sports?


Using the football analogy once more, a 2017 report found that 88% of players in the Women’s Super League in England earn less than £18,000 a year. To put this into perspective, the average player in the men’s Premier League earns approximately £50,000 a week. Why does this matter? Well, the same report found that 90% of players were considering cutting short their careers in order to find a higher paying job or start a family. This hinders the growth of the sport, and the lack of investment in and support of female players has wide-reaching consequences for the current and next generation of footballers. 

This situation is mirrored across the sporting arena, with a few exceptions, leading to a dearth of talent.

However, last year the Irish football association agreed to equal the match fees for the men’s and women’s national teams. After describing how they felt they had been treated in an interview as ‘fifth class citizens’ over 4 years ago, the players had to beg for a 300 euro match fee. It is seen as a huge step in the right direction for women’s football, which was enabled by the men’s team agreeing to a reduction on their own match fees.

Which sports are doing it right?

Tennis has had equal prize money across the board for both men and women for several years. Boosted and encouraged by many high profile female tennis players, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and Emma Raducarnu.

In fact, the US Open has had equal prize money since 1973. Many more sports are following this example, but the highest-profile ones, such as football and cricket are lagging behind.

Is prize money the only issue?

No. As well as disparity in prize money, salaries for female athletes are less and it is generally more difficult for them to achieve high-paying sponsorship deals. But, things are changing – particularly with the advent of social media which has meant that women can promote themselves, rather than waiting to be approached.

What next?

In many sports, the culture is already changing and this is being picked up by advertisers, who are getting attention from the public for campaigns featuring female athletes. But greater change is still needed; a shift in perception will allow future generations of women to compete and excel with the same opportunities that men have.