With Union Southampton’s “Women in Sport Week” going on, I thought it would be a good time to have a look at the kind of pay that women in sport receive and what methods are being put in place to get ever closer to women being able to depend entirely on their sport for their livelihood like many of their male counterparts do.
If you’re not convinced that women are under-represented in sport, think about when a group of people are discussing football, rugby, cricket or any number of sports and I can guarantee that almost every single one will be to do with male athletes. There is a horribly small number of professional female athletes and even less professional women sports leagues. We have money and space to have 4 fully professional male football leagues in the UK with some of the highest paid male athletes in the world, but can only make room for 9 Women’s teams that are semi-professional and have to affiliate with a male club to get financed.
But are any sports making progress in terms of gender equality? Tennis is leading the way in terms of the traditional sports with the Women’s Tennis Association which was founded in 1973 by Billy Jean King. Her motivation to do this was to combat the growing pay gap between men and women within the sport following it going professional in 1968. In 1973 the pay favour was 12:1 in favour of men, hence the founding of the WTA. It has meant that over 2500 women can compete at the top level of tennis for a living and receive the media coverage they deserve. On top of this 8 out 10 of the highest paid female athletes are tennis players according to Forbes and in 2014 Serena Williams become the first player, male or female, with the largest payday of over $4million.
Rugby sevens is another sport that is making great progress (but still has plenty of progress to make). Being a relatively new sport to the professional scene, the men’s circuit was founded in 1999 while the women’s tour trailed behind, only starting in 2012. The women’s circuit consists of 5 locations throughout the world where weekend tournaments are held with prize money for the best of 12 competing teams. Even though the prize money is roughly equal for men and women, the men’s circuit has 10 countries on the circuit and 24 teams. Thus the men’s circuit sustains a larger number of athletes and has more opportunity to win prize money.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) November 29, 2016
A trend is slightly appearing here, it tends to be that more traditional sports, football, rugby, cricket etc, have a larger gap in equality between the genders whereas newer sports have more emphasis on equality. You only have to look at Ultimate Frisbee and Quidditch, both up and coming niche sports, but both really push gender equality. This is perhaps because more established sports have the money already tied up in the men’s events whereas newer sports have the opportunity to make sure the investment is split evenly. That isn’t to excuse the governing bodies of traditional sports, but to encourage the newer sports to make sure they make amends where others may have failed.
#NWHL Hockey returns this weekend!
— NWHL (@NWHL) November 28, 2016
So what can be done about it? There’s two techniques that are going head to head to get a professional women’s ice hockey league going over in North America. The first is the slow and steady grass roots approach taken by the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The CWHL started in 2007 with 5 teams and although says it is professional, it only covers expenses and does not pay its players. It has been building up sponsorships over the years and has the aim of eventually paying the players when it is sustainable to do so. The other approach is the brute force approach, taken by the National Women’s Hockey League. It was founded in 2015 with four teams, but the difference here is that each player has a minimum salary of $10,000 a year. However, on the 17th of November this year, the cost was already taking its toll as the league manager said that all players would be getting a pay cut of 50% as their current pay was unsustainable. Can the NWHL survive the test of time? Both leagues are trying to achieve the same thing, having a league where women can compete for a living and be recognised for the athletes they are but are trying different routes to get there.
Which way is the best? Who knows, only time will tell, the most important thing is that there are people trying to make them work and will continue to do so.