Dylan Tuck investigates why the wage gap between male and female athletes remains a prominent issue
It’s 2019, and we’re still having to find the energy to address the ridiculousness of the difference in pay between men and women. While the issue, on the whole, seems both outdated and ludicrous, it’s still very much a concerning reality that is showing few signs of improving – with sport being one of the most guilty parties.
Unsurprisingly, and as you may have already guessed, football is the worst offender in the sporting world. Female footballers are so severely underpaid, that a recent report found that PSG forward Neymar (who earns £32.9 million in a year) makes the same as 1,693 women from France, Germany, England, Sweden, Australia, Mexico and the US combined from the same sport. It gets worse. Not only are female club players and staff paid less than their male counterparts, a report published by the Football Association’s governing body stated that women working for the FA earnt 23.2% less on average than the men at the same business. The gap between the genders isn’t just an issue for clubs – it’s a rot that’s infected from the top down.
Of course, it’s easy to sit there and pick the highest earners of the men’s game – a multi-million worldwide business that is, to many, the embodiment and epitome of world sport – and compare it to an undeniably evolving female game. But the distinction in financial disparity doesn’t mean the quality of female football is lacking, it’s just not receiving the same level of funding to be able to compete effectively. As such, the lack of parity in pay packages sparks a larger discussion on the current state of funding within the female game, and the wage gap further represents the significant lack of investment that women’s football has in comparison to men’s. It’s commonplace (albeit vastly farcical) for male athletes to be paid thousands more per week, while many publications, pundits, and fans report and discuss the figures involved as nothing more than a few quid. Your mind instantly comes to the most expensive transfers to date, the £200 million for Neymar, £75 million here for Van Dijk, £142 million there for Coutinho, the list goes on and on – even the smaller fees, championship players going for £20 million over recent years. The spoilt-child attitude towards money in football from fans, critics and stars themselves is toxic and breeds relentlessly. It depicts a gruesomely distorted version of reality that football exploits, a stark contrast to the female game, even in the stars of the sport.
Steph Houghton, Man City captain and World Cup winner with England, reportedly earns £65,000 a week before tax. Houghton is viewed as one of the best female footballers currently playing in the UK. In comparison, Alexis Sanchez is one of Manchester United’s highest-earners on a reported £550,000 a week – and he can hardly get a game since his move from Arsenal last year. Examples like these consistently pop-up again and again, and it’s a situation that needs a rethink and an overhaul. But in a male-dominated sport from top to bottom, how can women get a foot in the door? The change will only come from an adjustment of financial, economic rest on both sides of the sport.
Men’s football is ridiculously-priced, footballers are vastly overpaid, and the difference in the gender pay gap desperately pleads for a change in attitude to the way football is run. We see so much investment into young male players in football, into new facilities, grounds – anything that grows the men’s game. But surely, if the funds are available to grow these aspects, then why not similarly place more emphasis on funding the female teams simultaneously? Just a glance at the women’s leagues shows that teams, like Man City, Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and so on, share the same badge as the men’s team. To grow the women’s game reaps rewards for clubs, but more importantly, it brings a much-needed equality and human aspect back to football. It’s not like the women’s game is unpopular, in fact the stats show that’s not the case at all. From cup finals, league games, live airing of games, women’s football is in the strongest position it’s ever been – but we need to close the gap to the men’s game in order to reach a sustainable, level playing field by all accounts.
So far I’ve only talked about football, but what about other sports? Well, it’s not much better. A report last year showed that no sportswomen appeared on the 100 Highest-Earning Athletes list published in 2018. Not a single one. Serena Williams topped the Highest-Paid Female Athletes list with £18 million, while the winner for the list of both genders was Floyd Mayweather with £285 million – that’s a staggering £267 million pound gap between the highest earning male and female sports stars. It would seem that the most amount of money earned by women in sport is in tennis, with eight of the ten highest-earners. Football is the sport that perhaps gets the most attention, but there’s plenty of evidence across the sporting world that organizations and those involved at the top need to step up and take action. Sport is for everyone, and it’ll take both men and women to make these changes for the better.
All being said, the gender pay gap is damaging potential female athletes from becoming greats in a world where men average at their profession can earn far more for doing the same job at a lower standard. Finding a solution shouldn’t be as difficult as it seems, and it’s easy and fair enough to say "just pay women the equivalent to men for doing the same job" – that’s as simple as it should be. Yet, unfortunately, society is rarely that understanding. As recent as this month, women are still fighting for this change, as the US Women’s football team filed a lawsuit seeking equal pay to the men’s national side. While these actions are desperately needed, with such prehistoric dinosaurs in charge of much of the sporting world, change may take far more time than it should, and in the meantime, the results will continue to discriminate against female athletes.