Gender Pay Gap in Sports: What do we do?

For the people that watch the NBA, you know one of the loudest characters in the sport is Draymond Green. Green is also one of the more polarizing figures in the NBA and has never been one to shy away from voicing his opinion.

On March 27th, in a series of tweets, Green seemed to be blaming female athletes for making “complaints” about the pay disparity and lack of investment in women’s sports rather than taking action. United States Women’s football player, Megan Rapinoe, replied, ripping into Green. To cut a long story short, she wanted him to be more informed. He argued his tweets were misunderstood, even saying, “I am on their side.” The real issue with Green’s comments is that he wants women to come up with a solution to a problem that was not their fault.

Male sports has had a huge headstart on women’s sports. The reason behind the headstart is that historically sports were built around the physical attributes of men. This was explained by Dr. Laura Claus who called it a system of pure meritocracy, in which whoever is the stronger, faster, more skilled athlete would be the winner. Based on that, if women play against men they would lose.

In the first Olympic Games, in 776BC, in Ancient Greece, the events included sports such as human and chariot races, wrestling, jumping, disk, and javelin throwing. All of these showcase the physical abilities of men.

However, we are now in 2021. You would think that society has moved past the concept that women cannot do what men do, but the statistics would suggest otherwise. The statistics would say that female athletes are still seen as inferior to their male counterparts, who have had the time to build up fanbases and viewership, which generate a large amount of revenue.

In a statement made by Novak Djokovic a couple of years ago, he said that men should earn more money than women, as statistics show their matches attract a wider audience. The sad part is that he is not wrong in terms of audience share. A tennis match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is likely to get more views than a tennis match between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. However, with the increase in social media and advertising, women’s sports revenue has seen an increase but we can still do better.

While prize money discrepancies in most sports are better, there are still other monetary issues. In a study done by the Tucker Centre, it was found that only 4% of sports media is focused on women. This number increases to 10% when there is an international tournament, such as the World Cup.

Another issue is sponsorship money. In 2019, Katie Lebel wrote that women sports accounted for 0.4% of sponsorship money. That means that of all the sponsorship money spent by companies, 99.6% was spent on male sports. That is an insane amount of money. That is why on the list of highest-paid athletes in the world, the only women on the list are Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams

Osaka and Williams are not the only great female athletes, so why are they the only ones on the list? Women it seems have always had to be exceptional to be highly paid for their sport. That would seem fair, but a lot of mediocre male athletes are on the highest-paid list. However, improvements made in tennis, have resulted in female tennis players like Li Na and Maria Sharapova join Williams and Osaka on these lists.

These improvements really began in the 1970s. Billie Jean King was part of the Original 9. They were a group of women that wanted to end inequality in pay between men and women victors, so they created their own tournaments and played wherever they could. This would eventually turn into the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

As a result, since 2007, all four Grand Slam payout equal prize money, and the women are marketed pretty well, so they end up on the highest-paid list. However, even with all these improvements, they still do not earn as much as their male counterparts. So for all of her success, Serena Williams has earned much less over her career than Roger Federer.

So, how can we reduce the gender pay gap?

Many people have so many incredibly smart ideas to reduce the gap, but they are not in a position to make a change. Therefore we need to start pushing these companies, with power, to start marketing female athletes similarly to men.

If you invest in female athletes, we may see an improvement in pay. The increase in the advertisement of the women’s football World Cup and the WNBA has seen a huge viewership increase. Subsequently, we have seen a slight rise in payment for both female footballers and WNBA players, even though it is still far less than their male contemporaries.

Along with that, we should treat female sports as it’s own entity. Far too often women’s leagues are seen as a subdivision of male leagues. Look at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), it is the same sport but a different entity. It is not a sub-division of the men’s tour.

Lastly, we must support and listen to our female role models. We cannot just support the most popular people, there are some really talented women in sports. If you listen, you might actually learn something and as a whole, we can come up with a solution to this problem.

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