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Recently, BBC Sport released a study of the gender pay gap in sports. The study covers 48 sports, revealing that 37 of them offer prize money, and just three of those 37 still have disparity. This is good progress, but it would be contributing to the problem to settle at this and we, as sports fans, need to reflect on this study to make sure that progress continues.
Since the BBC’s last study in 2017, several sports have taken steps towards or achieved, pay equality. Squash, wrestling, surfing, and hockey have all achieved parity in major (but not all) competitions. Most notably, cricket has used the platform of its new format, ‘The Hundred’, to make and extend the progress that has been made since it achieved equality in the ‘Big Bash League’ in 2019.
Football, however, not only epitomises but worsens issues. Football is a global game yet has been going backward; the UEFA Women’s Champions League prize pot has decreased over the last two years, with COVID being no excuse as the men’s rewards have remained the same. Most recent World Cups have seen a $34 million difference in prize money, and FIFA pledges to double the women’s prize which would still leave a $30 million difference if you naively assume that the men’s prize will stay the same. There is simply no excuse for this given that 1.2 billion people watched the 2018 Women’s World Cup.
Sport often acts as a microcosm of society and in many ways leads from the front. Everyone watches and/or participates in it, so it’s now time for all sports fans to put their foot down and demand equal pay, as this will likely have a knock-on effect outside of sport. A common excuse for pay disparity is that as long as the money injected into each gender’s sport is proportionate to the money made, there’s nothing more that can be done. This naïve point of view is dangerous. How can women’s sport be expected to make the same amount of profit, when so little is injected into it in the first place? Furthermore, football, amongst other sports, doesn’t even pay prize money proportionately. The Women’s World Cup prize money was nine (NINE!) times smaller than the men’s despite viewing figures being just three times smaller.
The FA has pledged to use its biggest profit maker, the FA Cup, to invest in the development of women’s football. The current disparity lies at a distressing £1.8 million to £25,000, so it is our job as fans to not only put pressure on the FA to keep this promise but also to watch and participate in women’s football, so the money-focused bigwigs are encouraged to invest further. It is important to hold those in charge accountable but also ourselves. The viewing figures of the 2018 Women’s World Cup are staggering, but for men especially it is no longer good enough to simply point out that we have watched a few games, but to positively participate and engage in it on social media, for example.
Following on from cricket’s fantastic progress, the BBC released an article explaining how football can learn from cricket. Firstly, I’d like to apply this logic to my sport, rugby. World Rugby has just announced an exciting, ground-breaking global ‘WVX’ competition, which, like ‘The Hundred’, will give a new platform to achieve parity. This is a huge opportunity that, with a £6.4 million investment, can build towards bridging gaps. In the BBC’s article, England Women’s Cricket vice-captain, Anya Shrubsole, says that there is no excuse for identical tournaments to have inequal prize pots, but salaries should reflect popularity. This makes sense business-wise and doesn’t contradict a point made earlier because of popularity, and therefore the salary will increase if the prize money is equal.
Most major sports have their major competitions branded the same for both genders so there should be no excuse to as to why the prize money is different. Tennis, for example, began paying equal prize money in the US Open in 1973 and now all four Grand Slams have equality. Now, excluding the anomalies of Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka, women tend to earn the same, or more, in endorsements than any other male player. Moreover, since squash combined the brands of the men and women’s tours, turnover has increased by 236.7% for its governing body, the PSA. Simultaneously, the female player base has increased by 36% and their salaries have increased by 65.7%.
Tennis and squash have proved that cricket’s new approach is more than effective, and it is puzzling that sports such as football, golf, and basketball (the three worst-performing sports from the study) don’t replicate this approach, especially given the exponential amount of profit they all make. The business heads should surely realise that the more money they offer, the more investment they’ll get and therefore more participation and equality in salary. Football has a head start in that the two World Cups are branded similarly, which is a platform for equal prize money that all evidence suggests will work wonders for gender inequality.
Increased prize money leads to increased investment, leading to increased popularity, leading to increased participation and increased salary. These are crucial steps that, if taken, can cause wider societal change. We must hold ourselves accountable and ask whether we individually do enough to encourage and cause change, and in doing so hold those in charge accountable to making sure that sports cater for basic equality – which at the moment it fails to do. Whatever sport you love, make sure you watch and engage with both genders playing it; sport is for all to enjoy, so why hold back? I would also thoroughly recommend reading the BBC’s full gender pay gap report, it is certainly eye-opening and expands on some of the solutions that this article has offered.