This is why women in sport must be given equal pay

equal pay for men in sport

The month of June kicked off with collective momentum for soccer fans, as it signified the start of the women’s FIFA world cup and the African Cup of Nations. The women’s FIFA world cup came to a victorious end for the USA, which beat the Netherlands 2-0 in the final, winning the competition for a fourth time.  Despite this victory, the issue of equal pay has been an ongoing concern for women in the sports fraternity, which was also taken up by the USA women’s soccer team in suing the US Soccer Federation to demand equal pay with their male counterparts.

The issue of the gender pay gap in the sports fraternity is prevalent and needs to be addressed. On a global level, the slow paced change in addressing this issue is highlighted in a report issued by the WEF, which found that on average, women across the world are paid just 63% of what men earn. Like many other fraternities, sport is one of the mirrors which reflects the state of society, and the pay gap in particular is one of those cracks produced by inequality.

The ongoing global  prevalence of the gender pay gap spans many years. In South Africa for example, on average, women make 28% less than their male equals.  With regards to sports and particularly soccer in South Africa, female soccer players earn about 10 times less than their male counterparts. In cricket women earn  8 times less than men, and in Rugby, female players earn between R12000 to R20 000 in match fees while their  male counterparts match fees range from R90 000 to R120 000.

On a more global level, the list of the 100 highest paid athletes in the world does not contain a woman. The gender pay gap is also revealed in the FIFA sports prize money, were the winning female team gets  total prize money of $30 million compared to their male counterparts who receive $400 million.

There are various factors that contribute to this gender pay gap, with reports alluding to the available resources as well as sponsors who fund teams. This can perhaps be linked to traditional schools of thought, which regards certain sports as meant for boys and not girls. Tracking back in time, Pierre de Coubertin, who is regarded as the founding father of the Olympic Games said that women playing sport is an “anaesthetic sight” and their participation is “improper”. Kathrine Switzer made history in 1967 as the first woman to bypass the ban that prevented women from competing in marathons and as she reached the finishing line, a co-director of the marathon ripped her 167 bib from her and spun her around in an attempt to boycott the marathon because of her participation. These historic events reveal the historical fibre of inequality, which is now manifesting through the gender pay gap in sports.

Albeit efforts to increase participation of women in sports, the societal gender bias is revealed in how sport is consumed by viewers and therefore how sponsorships and endorsements invest in sports men vs women. It is common cause that sponsorships and endorsements are linked to a brand, figure or in this instance a sport that is widely watched and sparks the most interest. There has been a reported 4% spike in viewership in the FIFA women’s world cup final as compared to 2011, in countries like the US. This can hopefully spike up the 0.4% contribution to all sports sponsorships by women. Perhaps the issue that should be addressed is embedded at grass roots level, with regards to the societal bias and therefore the perception of women in sport.  The gender stereotypes have an ongoing impact on how sport is perceived as young boys and girls get older. As it stands, the dropout rate of participation in sport for adolescent girls is 6 times higher than that of boys. Furthermore, reports show that as a result, children aged between 8-12 are 19% less active than boys. Political philosopher Iris Marion Young highlighted social gender based stereotypes as contributing factors to the decreased participation of girls in sport, revealing that women are “conditioned by their sexist oppression in contemporary society to not engage with physical activity as much as men from an early age.”  The physical ability of women with regards to sports has little to do with their ability to play sport. It is in the historical and patriarchal forces that attribute women’s interest and ability to play sports competitively that we find young girls taking less interest in sport. As Iris Marion Young reiterates, women in society are physically handicapped, because of perceptions of masculine and feminine. This has an impact on how women and men perceive sports in their later years, and bleeds onto how women in sport are viewed and endorsed in society.

Stereotypical views which form dividing lines between masculine and feminine sports also play a huge role in participation as well as dropout rates of young girls in sport. Women who play “masculine sports” such as soccer are viewed as “butch” and less feminine. These social constructs are even visible in how women are policed in their sport of choice and expertise.   The “femininity police” as they are referred to on social media, can be seen to impose such stereotypical views in how women like Serena Williams who has been at the receiving end of insults, which refer to her physique as resembling that of a man.  Another scenario is that of tennis coach Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach for the very slender Agnieszka Radwanska who is said to be “kept small” so that she “looks like a woman.” Such views feed into the societal stereotypes that draw differences between men and women in sport, and perpetuate the seamlessness in sports between men and women, which ultimately feeds into the issue of inequality. This later manifests in how sport is received between men and women, and therefore brings about issues such as the pay gap.

The equal contribution of women and men in sport is of great importance in shaping the economic and societal fibre of the human race. We stand a great chance of losing out on the contribution of women in transforming society and their skills and talents if we don’t address issues such as the gender pay gap in moving towards a transformed society which has equality as one of its values. Equal pay cannot be ignored in this transformative model.


Featured image | Cameroon Women’s World Cup 2019 | wikimedia commons 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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Featured image| Nigerian football supporters at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia| wikimedia commons 





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