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Why Is There Uneven Pay Between Men And Women In Sport And Is The Gap Narrowing?

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Gender pay gap in general

The gender pay gap and equal pay are phrases that are commonly used by the current generation; on tv, in papers and most prominently in the workplace. But do people really understand what these phrases mean? The gender pay gap or gender wage gap is the average difference between the remuneration for men and women who are working calculated from the median hourly earnings figures . Equal pay refers to men and women who are in the same job, working the same hours must be on the same wage. The UK parliament enforced the equal pay act in 1970 in order to prohibit companies from treating men and women in the workplace any more or less favourably than one another in terms of pay and conditions of employment. However, this equal pay act was only updated and replaced 40 years later in 2010. After 47 years of the equal pay act being in place, regulations were enforced so that the 10,000 UK employers that the Government has identified as having over 250 employees have to publish their data as of April 2017. Although the regulations were enforced by the government, according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission 1,557 firms had missed the deadline to publish their figures.

Gender pay gap in sport

Sport is defined as an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. However, Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympic Games in 1896 described women’s sport as “the most unaesthetic sight human eyes could contemplate” and advocated that the games be reserved for women and considered there participation would make the competition ‘impractical, uninteresting’ and ‘improper’.


Cricket is historically known for being a male sport with the first time women were recorded playing cricket was on the 26th July in 1745 in Guilford, Surrey almost 200 years after the first males match was played in the same location in 1550 . The England and Wales cricket board has previously stated it is committed to tackling and fighting back against a gender pay imbalance within the organisation. However, figures released by the ECB in 2017 revealed that the mean pay gap between males and females is the highest amongst the four main sporting governing bodies (including the FA, LTA, JCR and ECB) at 38% .

Women’s cricket matches can take many different formats including: T20 (the shortest format with each team facing a total of 20 overs), One Day matches (50 overs each side) and test matches which were played for the last time in 2017 before the ICC called it a day on the particular format. This decision to stop playing test matches in the women’s game was made as test matches in the women’s game were considered commercially unviable. Men’s cricket also takes many different formats including the ones listed above as well as test matches. There is a much greater emphasis on the shorter formats of the game in both women and mens cricket and a greater movement away from the longer test match format of the game. This movement is much more prominent in the women’s side of the sport as the England men’s side in a year play on average 8-12 test matches. This could give a total of 60 days of cricket if each test was to last the full 5 days. This is 60 more days of cricket than the women’s England team who in 2018 played a total of 0 test matches.

Cricket World cup

According to Topend sport, the first women’s World Cup was held in England in 1973 with England winning. This women’s world cup was two years before the first men’s world cup and this evidence of the first women’s world cup is backed up by scorecards on espn sport showing that this event did take place. Women’s cricket back then was a relief from working and purely recreational. However, now for the women that play international cricket, it is their profession. This is a huge step towards the men’s game as in the men’s game anyone playing at a county level are considered professionals unlike the women. This shows the disparity in the game at both international and county standard.

The prize money for this event is drastically different between the men and women’s tournament. The overall prize money for the women’s tournament in 2013 was a mere $200,000 to be distributed between 8 teams each consisting of 11 players a side excluding the coaching staff and reserves. This figure may seem a lot for just one sporting event but in comparison to the prize money of $8 million available for the men’s equivalent tournament it seems frivolous. People may argue that the additional prize money is justifiable due to the 16 teams that entered the men’s tournament compared to just the 8 in the women’s competition. Surely that would mean the prize money for the women’s tournament should have been half that of the mens? This disparity since the 2013 World cup has improved considerably along with the profile of women’s cricket across the world with the teams competing in the women’s world cup in 2018 competing for a share of $2 million. Despite being 10 times the amount from 2013, this is still a large way off the men’s equivalent which along with the women’s side has also increased by 40% since their previous tournament with the prize money available a colossal $14 million! The gap between the men’s and women’s prize money has increased from $7.8 million to $12 million; many may say that previously the men’s prize money was 40 times that of the women’s and that it is now only 7 times as large. Although this fact may be true, the difference of $12 million is still unacceptable.

Women’s Football

During World War 1 whilst many men were fighting away from home, women’s football thrived in many areas of the UK and grew massively in popularity with a Boxing Day match played by Dick Kerr’s Ladies side against St Helen’s Ladies in 1920 attracted a crowd of 53,000 to Everton’s Goodison Park ground, with thousands more fans locked outside. To put that into perspective, Everton men’s highest attendance in the 2014/15 season was 39,000 . This increase in interest was met by the FA a few years later on December 5th 1921 with a ban on women in England playing football at the grounds of Football Association clubs. Despite seeming ludicrous to society in the present day, this ban by the FA was welcomed by many men of the era. Even the boss of Arsenal at the time backed the ban and stated; ‘Anyone acquainted with the nature of the injuries received by men footballers could not help but think – looking at the girls playing – that should they get similar knocks and buffetings their future duties as mothers would be seriously impaired.’ This comment from Leslie Knighton is extremely sexist and if it had been made in the present day, Leslie would have been looking at some sort of ban and would more than likely have been sacked as Arsenal’s boss.

It took the women of the time until 1969 to fight back against this ban but they did resulting in the formation of the women’s FA (WFA) that included 44 clubs. In light of the formation of the WFA, and the increased pressure from women all over the country, the FA eventually lifted the ban on women playing in 1971.

Women’s football World Cup

The women’s World Cup sees high quality football played at an international level. The first competition took place in 1991 in China featuring 12 international sides with the United States being crowned the champions in a 2-1 win over Norway. Similar to the men’s tournaments, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association otherwise known as FIFA, govern the competition and it is held every four years in different nations around the world who take part in a bidding process to host the event. In order for a team to be included in the tournament, they must be successful in the rigorous qualification matches that take place several months before the first game of the tournament. The 1995 tournament, like the 1991 competition, also saw 12 teams compete but more recently due to the increase in participation in the sport, the teams competing in the tournament has been increased to 24 for the 2019 World Cup taking place in France consisting of 6 groups followed by knockout stages to see who will take home the trophy.

As regards prize money for the event, FIFA have been eager to publicise their news that the prize money for the 2019 tournament will be double that of the 2015 equivalent. This may seem like a large increase and leap towards equality as the FIFA president Gianni Infantino stated “it’s a very important message for women’s football”. However, the winners of the tournament will take home $4m almost a tenth of what France, the winners of the men’s world cup in Russia 2018 won, which was a large total of $38m. The overall prize fund for the men’s tournament is a huge $400m, a colossal 13 times that of the Women’s. Therefore, many people along with Fifpro, the worldwide representative organisation for 65,000 professional footballers, believe this increase is therefore insufficient and despite the willingness of FIFA to make structural improvements to support women’s football, the sport still remains a long way away from equality.

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Tennis is a sport played across the world by millions of people, and was invented in France around the 11/12th century but the use of rackets was only introduced years later in England. The popularity of tennis decreased in the 1700’s however, when a hard rubber material (vulcanized rubber) that was used to cover the ball was invented in 1850, the game changed drastically. This new material allowed for tennis to be played outside and on grass. Participation as a result heightened and due to this increase in popularity, in 1877 the All England Croquet Club held its first tennis tournament at Wimbledon. This is where the origins of the well loved tournaments began. In spite of this tournament being a great development in the sport at the time, women weren’t allowed to play in the tournament until 7 years later in 1884 . Another strange condition to the tournament was that all participants were expected to wear hats and serving was only allowed underarm, rules that have since been abolished much to the delight of the players of today.

Since the introduction of outdoor tennis courts, the game has advanced to being played on a variety of different surfaced courts. There’s the traditional grass courts that do still exist but are less prominent due to the high maintenance required, this surface is generally considered to be quick with a much lower bounce. Hard courts which are the most common type of surface and provide players with a high bounce combined with a medium speed. Clay courts are the slowest of the three surfaces but also provide a high bounce. Different players suit each surface dependant on their style of play.


Wimbledon is notorious for being the only Grand Slam to be played on grass. At the first championships in 1877, there were 22 men who took part each paying a fee of a pound and a shilling in order to participate but there were no women allowed. Contrary to the competition that takes place now, only 200 spectators were present to watch the players compete using wooden rackets and hand sewn balls. Lottie Dodd made history in 1884 when she became Wimbledon champion at the mere age of 15 becoming the youngest woman to win a title . She remained undefeated and won the championships four years in a row exerting her excellence on a large stage. The men’s format is slightly different to the women’s as they play the best of 5 sets to decide who progresses to the next round whereas the women’s in best of 3 sets. Therefore the men can sometimes be playing for up to 4 hours longer than the women dependant upon the length of the match, which creates the debate of whether men are in fact ‘working’ for longer therefore should receive greater pay.

Out of the 4 grand slams that take place over the year, Wimbledon, the French open, the Australian open and the US open, Wimbledon was the last to award equal prize money to men and women. Women tennis players finally received equality at all four grand slams in 2007 some 34 years since the US open became the first in 1973. Billie Jean king, who founded the Women’s Tennis Association, was a key driver in achieving the best for women’s tennis. This campaign for creating a better women’s tennis was sustained by the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus. Eight out of the 10 highest paid sports women are tennis players with Serena Williams at the top of the tree. She has been a phenomenon in the sport and inspired thousands of girls to pick up a racket. She has experienced a record breaking career, winning 39 grand slams over 20 years and ranking number 1 in the world for a total of 319 weeks. These incredible achievements have earnt her $81.7 million in prize money throughout her career. The number 1 ranked male tennis player, Novak Djokovic, who has won only 12 grand slams has earnt an enormous $108.8 million.

Media’s influence

In an age when adults on average spend 24 hours on their phone each week, it comes as no surprise that the media’s influence on sport and the money in sport is increasing at a rapid rate. Unlike the prize money for women’s sport, much to many peoples amazement, the television coverage of women’s sport from 1989 to 2014 has in fact decreased. In 1989, the coverage of women’s sport on US sports channels was 5% of all sport shown. This figure is extremely small however since then, the coverage of women’s sport has reduced as in 2014 on ESPN, the percentage of air time of women’s sport was an embarassing 2% of all sport. How is women’s sport able to increase participation and interest if the barriers to entry such as being able to watch women inspiring others to play are so high? This is one of the key steps in the journey to achieving equal pay in sport and I believe this is one of the major ways to encourage young girls to get into sport. If young girls can see women competing in different sports they can be inspired and see that it is possible for them to have a career in sport.

Sponsorship can occur at all levels of sport from school teams right up to the elite athletes but can take many different forms. For example, a school team may be sponsored by receiving funded kit or some sort of equipment whereas a professional athlete can be paid millions to endorse a particular brand or product, receive free travel, equipment and much more. Usain Bolt, reported to have a net worth of $90 million according to CelebrityNetWorth is the world’s most successful sprinters. Despite his big name, his sport of athletics has very little in the way of prize money compared to many other sports. However, Bolt is ranked amongst the world’s best paid athletes thanks to sponsorships especially that of sports giant Puma. Being Bolt’s main sponsor set Puma back $10 million a year in 2017 when the World Championships took place. Bolt also has a global ambassador deal in place with Puma to ensure during his retirement he will receive $4 million a year up to 2025. Endorsements also make up a large proportion of women athlete’s salary. The tennis star Maria Sharapova has earned a total $10.5 million in 2018. From this you may infer she has been extremely successful winning countless tournaments; this is not the case. She has been a very good player but in fact $9.5 million of the $10.5 million has come from endorsements and only $1 million from prize money. In 2010, Sharapova signed a record $70 million contract with Nike spanning over 8 years.

Not only do these two sports players receive large sponsorship deals, they also promote brand over social media due to their large followings. Sharapova has more than 23 million followers on Facebook, twitter and Instagram and Usain bolt has 9 million followers of Instagram alone. Athletes strike up deals with major brands and can be paid per post or for a certain amount of posts per year including hashtags and slogans that can make brands millions. An athlete can make as much money in a year when they are injured than when they are at the top of their game.


This Girl Can, is a campaign by Sport England. Its aim is to get women and girls regardless of shape, size and ability moving all around the UK. The campaign was launched in 2015 in order to boost women’s participation in exercise when it was discovered that 40% of women are not active enough to get the full health benefits of sport and physical activity. This is 5% higher than that of men which sparked the target market for Sport England. According to Sport England figures, 2.8 million women were living more active lifestyles as a direct result of the campaign. This is a large claim made that from the campaign alone, women nationwide were inspired to become more active. The advert that received lot of attention due to the way This Girl Can depicted women’s sport as being vibrant, buoyant and not in the stereotypical mandatory manner previous initiatives had. It seemed like a new way for women to exercise featuring zumba, football, boxing and other sports not typically associated with women. The initial aim of the campaign is to just boost participation not necessarily looking for the next Serena Williams but talented sports women may be discovered as a result. Therefore, the This Girl Can campaign may be taking steps towards equal pay by increasing participation as a whole in women’s sport and consequently increasing the standard and competitiveness of women’s sport which in time will increase the pay of women’s sport.

Cricket is currently a male dominated sport with women representing only 10% of all the participants of the game. Following these figures, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has set a target of wanting half of all new participants in cricket to be women by 2023 . In order to fulfil this goal, in 2017 the English Cricket Board (ECB) introduced the Women’s Soft Ball cricket festival in order to engage more women in the sport. They have aimed to rebrand cricket by changing people’s perception of the game being a ‘boring’ and ‘individual’ game to a more fun and sociable sport. In Yorkshire alone the initiative has been hugely successful with over 500 women and girls taking part across the 12 festivals in the first year of its launch and an impressive 1700 participants in the second year. This shows a rapid growth in the sport which has been resembled by the introduction of 2 softball leagues containing 8 teams in 2018 in addition to 3 softball leagues in 2018/19 including 20 teams . This spark in interest of women’s cricket will hopefully lead to an increase in spectators to women’s international and county cricket games, increasing the ticket revenue and in turn increasing the prize money and wages for the women competing at a high level.

The main ideas behind both of these initiatives are to increase participation amongst women in sport. Therefore the success of these schemes will depend on the effect of the multiplier; the extent to which these campaigns will continue to grow in the future and expand across the country. There are numerous initiatives all over the country reaching out to women at the grass roots levels of sport however, in my opinion in order to increase the level of elite women’s sport for generations to come there needs to be more emphasis on increasing participation of sport, whatever sport it may be, from the ages of 5-8. If young girls can become involved in sport from a young age it may minimise the dropout rates of sport for girls between the ages of 14-18 and eradicate the stereotype of competitive sport being only available for men. The social stigma surrounding women’s sport is one that will only be removed through increased participation which is the main focus of the two initiatives I have previously mentioned. Another key issue surrounding women’s sport is the lack of positive role models, a problem that will continue to occur if women’s sport is not given the appropriate coverage on tv to enable girls to see these influential women.

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Why Is There Uneven Pay Between Men And Women In Sport And Is The Gap Narrowing? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
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