Money Smart Athlete Blog

The Gender Pay Gap in Sports

Mar 3, 2021 | Women Athletes

By Constantinos Massonos, Contributor

The difference in pay between athletes can vary by millions of dollars and this difference can be justified by their different levels of skill, popularity and quality. But when it comes to women athletes, they seem to be paid at a whole different scale from their male counterparts in the same sport, to such an extent that even the examples seem hard to believe. One of these examples is the Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s top 100 highest-paid athletes for 2020, which only includes two women, tennis champions, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. The combined earnings of both athletes, who made $37.4 and $36 million respectively in 2020 are not even close to the $106.3 million Roger Federer, made the same year and ended up on the top of the list.

The gender pay gap in sports has gained more public attention in the past year, due to the enormous support and publicity the two global gender equity and fairness movements #MeToo and #TimesUp have received. The two movements have provided a forum for women to express their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, misogyny and bullying as also inequality in the workplace, including wage disparity.

One of the most prominent current cases concerning the gender pay gap in sports, is the ongoing legal battle between the US Women’s National Soccer Team players Vs the US Soccer Federation. The players allege that the USSF engages in “institutionalized gender discrimination” towards the team, something that “has caused, contributed to, and perpetuated gender-based pay disparities” against the players in “nearly every aspect of their employment,” as the lawsuit reads.

Whatever the final ruling will eventually be, the above-mentioned legal battle, has inspired several other women’s national teams, such as Jamaica’s and Australia’s soccer teams and the US Hockey team to fight for equal pay and rights to their male counterparts.

Putting aside the obvious and fair demand for equal pay, the money disparity makes it almost impossible for many skilled women to follow a career in sport, while on the other hand less talented men get the chance to earn their living through sports. It is even harder for women to become professional footballers for example, with men making up 99% of all professional footballers than becoming surgeons (82% men), university presidents (82% men) or astronauts (89% men).

There are many claims on why the wage gap in sports exists. The most projected one is that the gap is reflecting the difference in revenue generated by men’s Vs women’s sports. For example, the latest 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia generated around $6 Billion, while the 2019 Women’s World Cup was expected to raise around $131 Million in revenue.

In reality, demand for sport depends on the quality of play, the uncertainty of the outcome and the level of drama a game can offer up to the last second, so gender or sex shouldn’t be relevant. It seems though a cycle is in place with women not paid as much as men are, forcing many talented women athletes to quit and never become professional, which then prevents Womens’ sports to raise their quality level, attracting fewer sponsors and thus revenue, which again leaves women athletes paid less than men.

The only way sports bodies and institutions can break this cycle, is to offer women the equal pay they deserve, thus respecting the efforts they put in training and in competing in their sport. A cultural change is already happening, but a shift in perception towards women athletes will allow them to have the same opportunities men athletes have in the future.

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