Inequality in Sport–Are Women Worth Less?

Simone Both, PG Near and Middle Eastern Studies

In less than 200 days, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will start in France. The tournament will be held between the 7thof June and the 7thof July in multiple cities all over the country such as Lyon, Nice, Montpellier and, of course, Paris. 

Halfway through November, the Dutch team was the last team to claim a European ticket for the World Cup. The other European countries that have managed to qualify over the last few weeks are England, Germany, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Spain and Sweden. Even though the Dutch team is one of the favourites for the title, Japan, the United States and Brazil are also favourites. 

One issue that gets increasing attention each tournament is the inequality between male and female football players on different levels. For example, the Women’s World Cup happened for the first time in 1991; more than 60 years after the first World Cup for male national teams. 

Additionally, there is much talk about the inequalities in salary. A BBC Sport Study from 2017 has shown that the gender pay gap among athletes has considerably narrowed, especially in the last three years. Of the 44 sports governing bodies that responded to participate in the research, 35 of them pay equal prize money to male and female athletes. These are sports of all ranks, such as sailing, figure skating, Taekwondo and gymnastics. Sports that still have unequal payments are, for example, cliff diving, snooker, darts, cricket (in the World Cup £3,1 million for men and £470.000 for women), cycling, golf and some surf tournaments.

However, the numbers for football stand out. In the World Cup, men receive the winning prize money of 35 million pounds whilst the total prize money for women was £2 million. In the Champions League, the differences are even greater. Where women earn £219.920, men can earn 60 times as much, up to £13 million. This means that male athletes in football can be millionaires while their female counterparts are struggling to make a minimum salary. 

The imbalances are not only caused by salaries. Sponsorship is a great cause of keeping the imbalance as it is and is a way for some female athletes to make up for the gender pay gap. When one looks at the Forbes’ list of the 100 richest athletes it is clearly still a ‘boys club’. Last year, Serena Williams was the only female on the list. However, this year she was no longer featured as she has been less active in tournaments due to the birth of her daughter Alexis. Despite earning $18 million from sponsorship deals and endorsement, Serena Williams still did not earn to make it to the list.  

Even though equality of prize money is still not accomplished in all sports we have to look at what has been accomplished over the last decades. In 1973, not a single sport paid the same prize money for male and female athletes but throughout the years a growing number of sports associations equalized prize money. If this research does not change anything, perhaps we should look at how the Norway Football Association dealt with the gender pay gap. The male players donated over £50.000 of their earnings to the women’s teams so they can focus fully on their sport careers and are not obligated to have other jobs. This way they can fully prepare themselves for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019. Thus it can be seen that, whilst some actions are being taken to create a more level playing field, there is still so much more that needs to be done to ensure gender equality in sport. 

Source: BBC Sporty Study: Prize Money in Sport: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/40300519(June 2017).



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