There’s Still A Gender Prize Money Gap In Sport, But A New Study Says It’s Closing
The Debrief: We all know that women have long been unfairly paid a huge amount less than men in sport, but it looks like that’s on its way to changing
The difference between the amount earned by professional sportsmen and sportswomen is something that sadly isn’t a surprise these days. We’re all too familiar with the fact that there’s an astronomically bigger amount of money in men’s football than women’s and it’s safe to say that Serena Williams’ $495,000 last year doesn’t come close to the $731,000 that Roger Federer’s earned for defending his tennis title too.
Frustrating as the situation may be (because, does anyone else feel like we’ve been having this conversation for far too long?) a new study suggests that we really are actually moving towards equal pay for in sport. According to a global study by BBC Sport commissioned for Women’s Sport Week (this week 19-25 June, btw), 83% of sports now reward men and women an equal amount of prize money.
The study looked into the prize money awarded at world championships and events of similar standing. It didn’t look into things like wages and sponsorship – an area that women in sport continue to experience a huge disparity in earning than their male counterparts – but there are 44 sports that specifically award prize money and 35 of them apparently pay equally. A brilliant thing for women who participate in those 35 sports, but, to look at this realistically, it’s still continued unfair treatment of the women entering the other nine sporting competitions.
The Premier League/Women’s Super League, the World Cup, the FA Cup, the US Open (golf) and The Open are the top five sports with the biggest discrepancy between male and female prize money, the study found. And the extent of the issue is beyond ridiculous when you look at the numbers. It was revealed that there’s a huge £470,000 up for grabs for the winning cricket team at this year’s ICC Women’s World Cup, while the winning men’s team at their competition in 2019 will be awarded £3.1 million. If you just tried to do the mental maths, that's about six times more than women will take home. Chair of the ICC women’s committee, Clare Connor, did tell the BBC that there will be ‘a strategic plan to ensure that the game can deliver equal prize money in 15 years’, though.
A 15-year plan is, of course, better than no plan. A million miles better than not addressing the issue. Obviously, we’re all for a plan to change the way these organisations operate. But at the same time, it’s things like this that leave many of us torn as to whether or not it’s something worth celebrating because well, equal pay should be just a given by now, right? That said, it doesn't take away from the fact that any progress away from a problem that’s so deeply ingrained in sporting history is without a doubt, a really great thing.
It all feeds into a wider, global issue around gender inequality that, although we’re continuously moving towards a more level playing field, the reality is that we’re still having to fight for feminism. And it’s a fight that has long been fought for women in sport. Back in 1921 the British Football Association banned women for playing on their pitches and said that football was ‘quite unsuitable for females’. It’s generally believed that rugby first came into existence in the early 1800s, but the first recorded women’s rugby union team didn’t appear until 1978. Marylebone Cricket Club only lifted its ban on female members less than 20 years ago in 1998. And according to last year's Gender Balance In Global Sport report, 'countries and sports leagues at all levels pay women less than men'. It's been a long slog and we clearly still have a long way to go.
On a less cynical note though, progress is always positive. Tennis was the first sport to award men and women equal prize money back at the 1973 US Open, and since then things like surfing, squash, athletics, volleyball and marathons are all now among the other 18 sports that now pay out equal prize money. The battle to close the gender pay gap in (and outside of) sport is ongoing. But smaller wins like promises to up the prize money in women's cricket to match the men's, and the push to look into the differences in the ways men and women who compete at the same level are paid are good indications that the industry is publicly aware of the problem, and, however slowly they may come, further changes are hopefully on the horizon.
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