The issue of women’s pay in sport: The fight for fairness in a male dominated field
Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. Some of the top athletes today. The women who are paving the way for young girls in sport. The growth of women’s sport in the last few years can not go unnoticed. A study by the BBC found women’s sport could generate more than £1 billion per year by 2030. From Fallon Sherrocks historic victory in the PDC world darts championship to the Lionesses recording the highest attendance for a home game at Wembley – against Germany where 77,768 watched on in 2019. Women are continuing to demand respect within sport through their undeniable talents. These are signs that women’s sport is going in the right direction, but do not be fooled. There is still plenty of work to do.
The common argument for women to achieve the goal of fairer pay is that they must attract more fans to matches, more media coverage and TV endorsements. But we have to question why it doesn’t already. Centuries of sexist attitudes towards women’s sport limits improvements. Young girls have been made to feel that a football pitch is no place for them. A basketball court should be left alone. A golf course is out of the question. 65% of sportswomen have suffered sexism in their sport. From the fans to the board of sporting associations, the issue of not taking women’s sport seriously has been extremely damaging. Women are left having to work twice as hard just to prove themselves as athletes who deserve to be paid for their dedication to sport.
In the Forbes 2021 list of the top 10 highest paid athletes, there is not a single woman. The issue of women’s pay in sport continues to rage on. Male athletes in basketball, golf, football, baseball and tennis make anywhere from 15% to 100% more than female athletes. A male team at the cricket world cup can make seven times more than the women’s side. The issue of pay in women’s sport reflects the wider gender inequality that we continue to see in our society. Attitudes are finally shifting but only after decades of underfunding and little media coverage around women athletes.
Women’s football has often been at the forefront of this debate. A few weeks ago, the news broke that the US women’s national team had won a $24 million payout and a pledge from US soccer to equalise pay for the men’s and women’s national team in all national competitions. This was a landmark settlement of an ongoing battle for equal pay lasting six years. A decision which will hopefully set a precedent for other sporting associations.
It is no secret that women footballers are paid less. A 2017 report found that 88% of players in the Women’s Super League in England earn less than £18,000 a year. Again there has been improvements compared to 10 years ago, where there were no professional women’s teams in England and the recognition for female players was non-existent. The Women’s Super League, set up in 2018, means players are now paid to play full time. There have also been improvements at grassroots level, a key part of improving pay in women’s sport. The FA in England took over the running of the game in 1993 and with over 2.5 million registered players, football is now the top participation sport for women and girls in England. A push towards a society where “running like a girl” is no longer an insult.
More women need to be sitting on the board of clubs, involved in making decisions which can further the interest of women’s football. Women in higher positions within the sport is crucial. From Alex Scott in punditry on BBC one to Emma Hayes leading Chelsea F.C Women to unprecedented success in her role as manager, they have become role models who have inspired the next generation of young women. Improvements both on and off the pitch is what will continue to push this sport.
Tennis has been making major strides also. Since 2017, the female winners of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open and the US Open, have received the same prize money as the men. Women tennis players are met with worldwide admiration and high attendance at tennis matches. Emma Radacanu’s final at the US Open last year scored an average of 7.4 million viewers on Channel 4. It then comes as no surprise that tennis is the sport with the smallest gender pay gap. This is a far cry from attitudes once seen towards female tennis players. In 1973, there was an infamous one-off tennis match featuring Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Before the match, Riggs argued King “doesn’t stand a chance against me” and that “women’s tennis is so far beneath men’s tennis”. Riggs lost the match. A landmark win for women’s tennis in the face of fierce sexist opposition. Fast forward to today, ESPN reveals the women’s 2021 championship saw 17 percent more viewers on average than the men’s match.
In the fight for equality in women’s sport, we cannot just sit around complaining. We must change our attitudes. We must be practical. Go to a women’s rugby tournament or watch the women’s tennis US Open. I can only urge you not to be dismissive when someone suggests watching women’s cricket or asks to attend a women’s football game. If you do this, you are part of the problem.