Sunday (31 July) saw the England women’s football team take home the UEFA Euro 2022 trophy. The team claimed victory after the most-watched year of the women’s tournament in its history and in front of a record-breaking crowd attendance of 87,000 at Wembley, beating any previous women or even men’s final.
But despite the phenomenal success of this team, the tournament, and the world-class play of all involved, it’s a stark reminder to consider that when the Italian team lifted the men’s Euros trophy in that same stadium last year, they were playing for a share of around €315 million more.
Women’s sport continues to go from strength to strength, yet the success and rewards are far from equal to those awarded to male counterparts. Let’s dissect the state of pay equity in sport.
The state of play/pay
While it’s tricky to find exact salaries and pay gaps among athletes — and to consider the funds secured from sponsorships — bonuses are a helpful metric we can look at. Each Lioness earned a £55,000 bonus for their win this week, but that’s roughly what Cristiano Ronaldo earns in a day, while the England men’s squad were awarded £300,000 each for just making the final last year.
Considering prize money, a BBC Sport report last year found despite most sports now matching the prize money for both genders — like athletics, skiing, and tennis — there’s still a shocking disparity in the world’s most lucrative sports — such as football, basketball, and golf. The FIFA World Cup awards men $440 million, while the women receive just 14% of that, at $60 million. Similarly for the US Open, men win $17.5 million while women win just $10 million.
Many will argue that men’s sport is, largely, more popular and delivers more revenue, so equal pay is trickier to achieve. But it’s a chicken and egg scenario — men’s sport is also better funded, better paid, and therefore, results in a higher standard all round.
Seeing the women’s Euro final game set both attendance and viewing records on a fraction of the funding the men receive and for considerably less reward is bad economics. For women’s sport to continue to thrive, there needs to be an industry-wide push for commercial opportunities and for pay and participation offerings to be equitable to maintain momentum.
It’s not impossible to achieve pay equity in sport, though. And some sports and teams are setting a fantastic example.
Resetting the bar — the sports that are making strides
Cricket is one lucrative, male-dominated sport that has made considerable effort to rebalance gender in recent years, and it has now matched its prize money for both The Hundred and Big Bash League.
While there are of course those indisputable market forces — like ticket sales, sponsorship, and TV deals — governing bodies of sports oversee their spend priorities and there’s a virtuous circle in prioritising greater equity. Those sports like cricket who’ve matched prize money have broadly reported the positive knock-on effect of the sport becoming better funded, rising participation, and ultimately becoming more popular, leading to greater revenues and sponsorships.
The US soccer team is another example that’s gone one step beyond to reach pay parity. The challenging process took years to achieve but now, the two sides have agreed to pool and divide equally their World Cup prize money and commercial revenue. This isn’t just about men and women being awarded the same for the same work, but it also extends beyond wages and prize money into the level of facilities, travel, and accommodation.
Ignoring women in sport is an own goal
There’s no blueprint for sport to address its pay gap issues — especially given the unique makeup of each sport’s industry. Organisations that are serious about diversity need to change the way they think about the problem and seek insights and change that can be made across their whole ecosystem.
Technology is available today that can help governing organisations take the strain of making their first steps towards diversity and equity change. They can very quickly identify pay gaps — a helpful data starting point — but also identify the broader, complementing challenges like hiring, promotions, funding splits, opportunity equity, and ethnicity representation.
Football is not going to fix its diversity and equity issues overnight, but the England team’s recent success and the records the women’s tournament broke in a few short weeks brings the issue into glaring focus. Regardless of the sport, better funded and more equitably rewarded women are only going to help women’s sport keep going from strength to strength, meaning not only happier players but ultimately, more revenues.
I’m no football expert, but if sport keeps burying its head in the sand on gender equity, it might as well be scoring an own goal…